Types of hernia, risk factors and treatment

Aug 5, 2017

A hernia doesn’t always cause pain. In fact, often doctors only find a hernia during a physical exam of their patient. And surgery isn’t always necessary. We’re busting some myths about hernia this week and asking questions you may have been too scared to ask.

Dr. Michael Rosen joins us this week on "Take Care" to discuss some common types of hernia, as well as treatment options. Rosen is a professor of surgery at Lerner College of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic Foundation. He’s also the director of the Cleveland Clinic Comprehensive Hernia Center.

A hernia is a basically a hole, somewhere in the abdominal cavity, that allows something to protrude or poke through it.

“And what you see is the protrusion or the mushroom cloud, which can include intestines, fatty tissue,” Rosen says. “The ultimate issue with the hernia is the hole in the muscle.”

Hernias can be seen in a few different areas:

  • At a prior surgical incision
  • In an area that is breaking down, often the groin
  • At the bellybutton, in which case it’s usually something you’re born with

“I think the most common hernia that we see are inguinal hernias, which are hernias in the groin,” Rosen says.

Your risk factor

The likelihood that you’ll get a hernia depends partially on your genetics and family history, but there are also some other correlations that are worth noting.

For example, according to Rosen men are more likely to get inguinal hernias than women, while women are more likely to get hernias where they’ve had past abdominal surgery. Also, people who have a predisposition to forming aneurysms, Rosen says, will often get hernias as well. The same goes for people who have weakening of their colon wall or diverticulitis.

Symptoms

Symptoms don’t always present with hernia. But if there are symptoms, they’d be associated with pain when exercising, lifting and any other activity that increases intra-abdominal pressure.

“What happens then is you increase your intra-abdominal pressure, very much like if you have a hole in your tire. Every time the tire goes around, things start to push through it. And eventually, if something gets stuck in there they can come into the emergency room with severe symptoms,” Rosen says.

Treatment

Treatment doesn’t always mean surgery. Most hernias don’t get larger, Rosen says, so if it’s not bothering you, you may not have to fix it. Your doctor can indicate what your options are depending on where the hernia is, how symptomatic it is and how healthy you are.

“There’s really no way to fix a hernia without surgery, so the ultimate question is whether you’re a candidate to tolerate surgery and whether surgery is going to improve your quality of life and reduce your chances for any complications,” Rosen says.