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Those pushy hernias

May 2012


Those pushy herniasHernia is a word that most of us have heard of but, unless we have been in contact with someone who has suffered from this problem, many of us have no real idea what it means.

A hernia is sometimes called a rupture and it happens when for some reason there is a weak spot in the wall of the abdomen and the contents inside then push through, bulging out.

Hernias are far more common in men than women and they also occur more in older people. A number of factors such as being overweight (with a body mass index of over 30); doing lots of heavy lifting, or having a long term bad cough or constipation can all add to the risk of developing a hernia.

There are several type of hernias but by far the most common is the inguinal hernia which mainly affects men. This occurs when tissue pushes out through a weak point in the lower abdomen in the groin area. An inguinal hernia can cause pain in the groin and you may be aware of a swelling or small lump in the area.

A femoral hernia is more usual for women and is when abdominal contents, usually the intestines, protrude into the femoral canal. This is the route which carries the femoral artery, vein and nerve from the abdominal cavity to the thigh.

An umbilical hernia in adults usually occurs at an area in the abdominal wall which is open at birth. It closed naturally after birth but the area can remain a weak point in the abdominal wall.

A hiatus hernia occurs when part of the stomach bulges up through an opening in the diaphragm into the chest area.

Other types of hernias include an epigastic hernia when fatty tissue pokes through the abdomen between the navel and the lower part of the breastbone and a speigelian hernia when part of the bowel pokes through the abdomen at the side of the stomach muscle.

While many hernias can be felt as a bump or cause pain, some cause no symptoms at all. A doctor may recommend an ultrasound scan to help properly identify the hernia.

While many hernias do not appear overly serious to the patient, treatment is usually recommended for two main reasons. The first is that a hernia can develop and cause more discomfort; secondly there is a chance that the hernia can strangulate. This is when so much of the inner material has pushed through the weak gap that it becomes squeezed and its blood supply gets severely restricted or cut off. This can lead to serious complications.

Most hernias can be repaired by a fairly straightforward operation that doesn’t require an overnight stay in hospital. Depending on the problem, the hernia will be repaired under local or general anaesthetic and various methods are used depending on the specific location and size of the hernia. In inguinal hernias sometimes a thin sheet of mesh material is used, stitched or stuck over the hole of the hernia, rather than sewing the edges of the hole together, but other methods are available. Usually the prognosis is very good.

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