While it’s easy to explain away a pain in the lower stomach as a pulled muscle or gas, the truth is many people may be experiencing a hernia without even realizing it. A hernia occurs when an organ or fatty tissue squeezes through a weak spot in a surrounding muscle or connective tissue. Because pain is not always present with a hernia, or can range from mild tenderness to severe, many times it can go undiagnosed until symptoms worsen.
One way to recognize a hernia is if there is a soft lump in the groin, near the navel, or near a surgical scar. The lump or swelling usually goes away when pressed on or when the person is lying down, and may get worse when a person coughs. However, symptoms are so varied between each person and between each type of hernia, diagnosis can sometimes be difficult. Other symptoms for a hernia may include:
• A heavy feeling in the abdomen that is sometimes accompanied by constipation or blood in the stool.
• Discomfort in the abdomen or groin when lifting or bending over.
• Heart burn or upper abdominal pain, in the case of a hiatal hernia.
Treatment for a hernia depends on a person’s age and their health, as well as the location and severity of the hernia. For example, a hernia may be allowed to close on its own in some cases, such as a newborn that has an umbilical hernia. Emergency surgery may be required to prevent serious complications in other cases, such as an incarcerated or strangulated hernia. A hernia at the site of a previous surgery should be evaluated by the surgeon who performed the surgery to determine the cause and treatment.
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The most common types of hernia are inguinal (inner groin), incisional (resulting from an incision), femoral (outer groin), umbilical (belly button) and hiatal (upper stomach). About 80 percent of all hernias are inguinal, and most occur in men because of a natural weakness in this area. In this type of hernia, the intestine or bladder protrudes through the abdominal wall or into the inguinal canal in the groin.
While the types of hernia vary, they are ultimately all caused by a combination of pressure and an opening or weakness of muscle. The pressure pushes an organ or tissue through the opening or weak spot. Sometimes the muscle weakness is present at birth but, more often, it occurs later in life. Anything that causes an increase in pressure in the abdomen can cause a hernia, including lifting heavy objects without stabilizing the abdominal muscles; diarrhea or constipation; or persistent coughing or sneezing. Additionally, obesity, poor nutrition and smoking can all weaken muscles and make hernias more likely.
If you suspect your abdominal pain may actually be a hernia, contact your physician for further evaluation for hernia repair.