By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

What Is a Hernia?

A hernia happens when an internal body part abnormally protrudes from an opening of the surrounding supporting muscle tissue, beyond its normal body cavity. Protrusions may be due to an increase of body pressure, which can be caused by chronic coughing or straining during bowel movement. Other medical conditions, such as obesity or pregnancy, can also build up pressure within the body. When a weak or defected spot in the surrounding supportive tissue is present, the pressure may push fatty tissues, sometimes organs as well, into an internal or external hernia. External bulges may result in decreased blood supply to the incarcerated tissues, and internal bulges may hinder the function of other organs and cause internal bleeding or inflammation. In both cases of hernia, the condition may worsen to serious medical illnesses if left untreated.

Since hernias can be found almost anywhere on the body, they are usually classified by the anatomical area it affects. However, they are most commonly found around the abdomen and lower torso area, since the abdomen muscles are essentially sheets of supportive "corset" tissues that hold large amounts of internal organs inside the body. Common types of hernia include, but are not limited to, the inguinal hernias (groin), femoral hernia (upper thigh), umbilical hernia, incisional hernia (through a scar), diaphragmatic (hiatal) hernia and spinal hernia.

Occasionally, very mild forms of hernia can have little to no symptoms. A physical bulge may appear at times of bodily strain, but can be easily pushed back into the body. However, in more serious cases of hernia, severe pain and other serious symptoms may be present. For example, if a part of an intestine is trapped in the hernia, then it may cause intestinal strangulation, which can lead to vomiting, nausea, fever and blood in stool. It is strongly recommended to seek a medical doctor's advice if you suspect you have hernia, regardless of the severity of the symptoms, as untreated cases may worsen to other serious medical concerns. For example, a life-threatening medical condition known as gangrene is a common consequence of untreated hernias, as decaying tissue at the affected site can send the body into a toxic shock.

Hernias can happen to almost anyone at any time, although some individuals may be more at risk than others. For example, older adults are more susceptible to hernias due to the natural weakening of muscle tissues as time passes by. Men are more susceptible to inguinal hernias than are women. People whose careers require elevated levels of internal body pressure, such as constant heavy lifting or straining from professional sports, are also more at risk. Other medical conditions may also make an individual more susceptible to hernia, such as when the previous or pre-existing condition weakens supporting muscle tissues or increases internal pressures within the body.

If any typical hernia symptoms are experienced, then it is very important to see a doctor so that he or she can correctly diagnose the situation. There are other medical conditions that have similar or overlapping symptoms with hernia. For example, sensations similar to those of heartburn, such as chest pains, may also indicate the presence of a hiatal hernia. Appendicitis, another condition characterized by acute stomach pain due to an inflamed appendix, can be confused with serious cases of inguinal hernia, as well. Usually, physicians can detect the presence of hernias during a routine physical. Doctors will sometimes run X-rays to confirm the diagnosis, in addition to other lab testing.

Fortunately, hernias are generally treatable and have a good surgery prognosis; the recurrence rate after surgical repair is less than 3 percent if the wound is properly treated, as directed by a doctor. There are also many preventative measures that can be taken to further protect the body from hernias, so be sure to consult your physician if you feel that you are at risk.

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