Have you recently noticed a bulge in your abdomen that hurts and isn’t due to a particularly large dinner?

There may be many causes for your pain, but one that’s likely worth investigating is whether or not you have a hernia.

Around the world, an estimated 20 million hernias are operated on each year. This article will outline what causes hernias and how you’re able to prevent and treat them. Most importantly is when you should be concerned about your hernia pain and get medical attention.

When an organ pushes through the muscle or tissue keeping it in place, it’s called a hernia.

Hernias are most commonly found between your chest and hips in your abdomen. They can also occur in your upper thigh and groin area.

Some different types of hernias include:

Inguinal hernias

This is the most common type of hernia. These occur when your intestines push through part of your lower abdominal wall near the inguinal canal. Your inguinal canal is found near your groin. In people with testes, their testes typically descend through this area a few weeks before birth. In people with uteruses, this is the passage for the round muscles of their uterus.

This type of hernia is more common in people assigned male at birth than people assigned female at birth since the canal doesn’t always close properly after their testes pass through.

Hiatal hernias

This type occurs when the upper part of your stomach pushes through your diaphragm into your chest region. Hiatal hernias can cause issues with swallowing, heartburn, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.

This type of hernia is most common in those who are 50 years and older. If it appears in a child, it’s usually the result of a congenital birth irregularity.

Umbilical hernia

This type of hernia happens when your intestines bulge through your abdominal wall near your belly button.

Most common in newborns and young children, these frequently can go away in the first few years of life as the child’s abdominal walls become stronger.

When present in adults, umbilical hernias are typically caused by obesity, ascites (fluid in your abdomen), or pregnancy.

Ventral hernia

This type of hernia occurs when tissue bulges through an opening in the muscles of your abdomen.

While occasionally present at birth, these are more likely to appear with muscle strain due to obesity, pregnancy, or strenuous activity later in life. These types of hernias can also occur at the site of a surgical incision. These are called incisional hernias.

Hernias can happen slowly over time or quickly. They’re generally caused by a combination of muscle weakness and strain.

Some common causes of muscle weakness and strain that can result in a hernia include:

The most common symptoms of a hernia include:

  • a bulge or lump in the impacted area (may disappear when you’re laying down and be more visible when you’re coughing, standing up, or bending down)
  • discomfort in the area around your bulge

For some people, their hernia will have no symptoms.

In these situations, you may not even know that you have one unless it shows up in a routine physical or medical exam for another problem.

Other health conditions can sometimes be mistaken for a hernia. Some of these conditions include:

What to watch for

  • your bulge becomes red or purple
  • your pain suddenly increases
  • your heart suddenly begins racing
  • nausea, fever, or vomiting occur
  • you’re unable to pass gas or bowel movements
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An untreated hernia can sometimes lead to other problems. These include:

  • Putting too much pressure on surrounding tissues: This can lead to swelling and pain in the area around your hernia.
  • Incarceration: This is when a portion of your intestines gets trapped in your abdominal wall. This can obstruct your bowels and lead to pain, nausea, and constipation.
  • Strangulation: This occurs when a portion of your intestines doesn’t get enough blood flow. The intestinal tissue can become infected or die as a result. This is life threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

It’s not always possible to prevent a hernia since it may be due to surgery or an inherited condition. But some lifestyle habits can help to lower your risk of a hernia by lowering the strain on your body. These include:

  • keeping up a moderate body weight
  • avoiding lifting things that are too heavy for you and bending at your knees (not your back or waist) if you must lift something heavy
  • doing exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles
  • eating a high fiber diet to prevent constipation and trying not to strain during bowel movements
  • seeing a doctor or healthcare professional for medical care if you have a persistent cough and avoiding smoking

If you develop a hernia, surgery is the only true solution. But a doctor may suggest a wait-and-watch approach depending on the size of your hernia and the severity of any symptoms.

For some people, wearing a truss may help ease some of the symptoms. This supportive undergarment can help to hold your hernia in place, but you should always check with a doctor that it fits correctly before using one.

Over-the-counter and prescription medications can also sometimes be used to relieve hernia discomfort. You’ll want to discuss their potential use with a doctor.

It’s important to talk with a medical care team if you believe that you have a hernia. They can help to advise whether surgery to repair your hernia is appropriate or if it’s best to continue to observe your hernia.

If you notice a bulge that’s a red or purple in color, experience sudden increases in pain, are unable to pass gas and bowel movements, or begin to exhibit symptoms of an infection (fever, vomiting, etc.), you should get medical help right away.