You may know what a hernia is, but do you know that a hernia without pain may be a ticking time bomb in your gut? To emphasize the importance of getting your hernia examined as soon as possible, we asked Harvey Rainville, M.D., a board-certified general surgeon at Hackensack Meridian Mountainside Medical Center, to answer a few of the most common questions about hernias.
To begin with, a hernia is not an organ in your body. A hernia is a defect or opening in your muscle layer through which an organ, such as your intestines, can poke through during or after strenuous activity.
Everyday activities such as bowel movements, coughing, sneezing, laughing and bending increase pressure in the abdominal area and can force an organ or tissue to squeeze through the opening. It is not uncommon for a hernia to “pop out” and then return to what looks like a normal state due to decreased pressure, but a hernia that’s disappeared should still be taken just as seriously as a visible one.
Many people continue their day-to-day lives because the hernia doesn’t cause any pain or discomfort. What they don’t realize is that any hernia is potentially dangerous. If you suspect you have one, make an appointment with your primary care physician, and don’t wait for a problem to arise.
There are many types of hernias. People can be born with a hernia or can be develop one during their lifetime. The most common is type is an umbilical hernia, which develops right through the belly button. This can occur in young people and adults, many of whom are born with it and don’t notice it getting larger until they are older. Belly button hernias can often appear as an “outie” belly button or a belly button that protrudes outward. Women tend to notice this type of hernia when they become pregnant.
Hernias of the groin (inguinal hernias) are also very common. The groin area has a natural anatomical defect, so with too much pressure, that area can dilate and allow tissue to bulge through.
Men are much more likely to develop inguinal hernias than women for a variety of reasons, including a difference in anatomy. All men have a small hole in their groin muscles for blood vessels to pass through to deliver blood to their testicles.
In addition, individuals work in more strenuous jobs that involve heavy lifting can cause them to develop hernias at a higher rate. Those who work more sedentary jobs are at lower risk.
Hernias are not hereditary, like being tall or having red hair. However, some hernias occur at birth, so that’s why people ask this question. An umbilical hernia happens when part of a child’s abdominal contents pokes through the abdominal wall inside the belly button. It appears as a bump under the belly button. It’s not painful and most umbilical hernias resolve on their own by age 4 or 5.
Inguinal hernias will appear as a bump in the groin area. They can occur in newborns when a small opening in the abdominal muscles doesn’t close all the way. In both cases, consult your pediatrician if you believe your child has a hernia.
Depending on the type of hernia, they can cause various symptoms. Constipation, nausea and vomiting are symptoms of a strangulated hernia, which occurs when the blood supply to the herniated tissue is cut off. The strangulated tissue then releases toxins and infection into the bloodstream, which could lead to sepsis or death. Important fact: Any hernia can become strangulated and cause a medical emergency.
Most hernias can be diagnosed during a regular exam. Your doctor may also send you for a CT scan, which shows the size, location and type of tissues/organs affected.
Once your hernia is diagnosed, your doctor will provide the recommended treatment. The majority of hernias are treated with minimally invasive laparoscopic or robotic surgery. This type of surgery allows for 2-3 small incisions less than a centimeter wide. The procedure usually takes 30 minutes to an hour and in most cases is a same-day operation, allowing patients to go home after surgery.
Recovery is quick for most patients and many return to normal activity within a few days after surgery. Basic restrictions after surgery include no heavy lifting and no exercise for 3-4 weeks.
In the past, hernias had a 10-15% chance of reoccurring in patients. Current surgical techniques have decreased the chance of reoccurrence to 1-2%, but they still can happen. Diabetic patients are at a higher risk for hernias, especially if their blood sugars are poorly controlled. People with auto-immune disorders, a high body mass index, healing issues, smoking or other health issues are also more likely to have hernias.
If you believe you have a hernia, don’t waste any time. Contact your primary care physician immediately for an examination. To learn about signs and symptoms of a hernia and to find a primary care provider near you visit www.mountainsidemedicalgroup.com/symptoms/hernia.
If you have questions about surgical services at Mountainside Medical Center visit www.mountainsidehosp.com/services/surgery.