Hernia Causes & Risk Factors

What Causes a Hernia?

The majority of hernias occur among adults, although some infants may also have hernias. Most hernias occur around the lower torso area when the ring of "corset" muscles and tissues around the middle abdominal area weaken, and increased internal pressure within the body push fatty tissues into protrusions. In more serious cases, organs such as the intestines may also add on to the bulge.

While hernias generally do not have direct causes, there are several conditions that may indirectly lead to the formation of hernias. Failed embryonic closures in male fetuses, for example, can set the stage for inguinal hernia formation in later adult life. This abnormality happens during the formation of male sex characteristics during the fetal stage. Usually, a peritoneal pathway is formed when the testes of the male fetus descend. If the pathway fails to close upon birth, then the opening may serve as the site of protrusion for future hernias along the inguinal fold. Premature births may also set the stage for hernia formation, as muscle and tissue developmental problems are more likely to occur in such infants. Genetic disorders of the connective and muscle tissues also contribute to hernia formation, as it creates weak spots prone to protrusions.

A more common cause for hernia is the combination of increased pressure within the body and a pre-existing weak spot in the tissue or muscle wall at the potential formation site. Increased abdominal pressure can be inflicted by external factors. For example, jobs and activities that require frequent heavy lifting will increase pressure within the body and cause constant strains on connective tissues and muscles. Prior injuries also serve as protrusion sites, as muscles and tissues in this area tend to be weakened. Sports or sudden movements may also cause dislocations that may lead to hernia formation.

There are various pre-existing medical conditions that may set the stage of hernia development, as some conditions inflict internal pressure within the body while others are simply disorders of the connective tissue. Some of the more common conditions include the following:

Obesity: Individuals who are severely overweight will naturally have large amounts of internal pressure. Such internal pressure may easily push fatty tissues and internal organs into hernias.

Cystic fibrosis: This is a genetic condition that may include chronic coughing, which also builds up internal pressure within the body. Individuals affected by this disease may further encounter developmental problems, including and not limited to weak muscle and tissue formation

Ascites: This is a condition characterized by excessive fluid buildup in the peritoneal (abdomen) cavity. As fluid accumulates, there will also be an increase in abdominal pressure.

Severe constipation: Straining during bowel movement due to constipation will also increase abdominal pressure, and if accompanied by a weak spot in the abdominal "corset" tissues, may result in a hernia. Straining during urination may also have similar consequences.

Pregnancy: In later stages of pregnancy, mature fetal development may also increase abdominal pressure in women, something that may lead to umbilical hernias.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome: A genetic disorder, this condition is characterized by decreased collagen and weakening of the connective tissues, thus leading to sites of possible protrusion.

Who's at Risk?

There are several risk factors that may place an individual at a higher risk of having hernias than other. If you have multiple risk factors, or suspect that you may have hernia, then it is important to seek a doctor's opinion for immediate treatment, since they may be an indication of a more serious complication. Some risk factors include the following:

Age: Fibrous tissues and muscles tend to weaken naturally through time, so older adults and the elderly are more prone to hernias than younger individuals are.

Gender: Men are more prone to inguinal hernias than women are. Pregnant women are more prone to umbilical hernias than men are. Women, in general, are more prone to femoral hernias than are men, due to a wider pelvic bone structure.

Genetics: Individuals who have a family history of hernias are more prone to cases of hernia. Some hereditary disorders involving the muscles or connective tissues also place an individual more at risk for hernia. Infants of African descent are also more prone to umbilical hernias than are infants of other ethnicities.

Lifestyle: People whose work requires heavy physical labor are more prone to hernias due to constant straining of the muscle and connective tissues. Prior muscle injuries can also lead to weakening of muscle tissues. Sports injuries or sudden movements may also cause spinal hernias if a disc becomes dislocated.

Surgery: Individuals who had prior abdominal surgery are more at risk of developing hernias due to weakened tissues around the surgery site. It is very important to correctly take care of surgical wounds to minimize possible future chances of hernia development.

Medical conditions: Individuals who have medical conditions that increase internal body pressure will be more prone to hernia formation. A disorder of the connective and muscle tissues also increases the risks of hernia. Premature infants are also more prone to hernias, as problems in tissue and muscle development may serve as potential future protrusion sites.

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