What is a hernia?

A hernia is a defect in the strength layer of the abdomen (called fascia) that can produce a bulge or pain.

This can happen in areas of natural weakness, such as the belly button or the groin, or in areas of incisions from previous surgeries.


Risk factors for a hernia:

  • Older age: as we age the muscles become weaker
  • Obesity: increased weight places pressure on the abdominal muscles
  • Sudden twists, pulls or strains
  • Chronic straining
  • Family history
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Pregnancy – 1/2000 women will develop a hernia during pregnancy
  • Large abdominal incisions
  • Post-operative infections in surgical incisions
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Lung disease such as COPD


Groin hernias

When abdominal tissue or intestine bulges through the opening in the muscle in the groin area, this is called a groin hernia. A hernia is reducible if the fat or intestine can be pushed back into the opening. When intestine or abdominal tissue fills the hernia and it cannot be pushed back, this is called incarcerated. A hernia is strangulated if the intestine is trapped in the hernia pouch and the blood supply to the intestine is decreased. This is a surgical emergency.


Types of groin hernias:

An inguinal hernia is a bulge in the groin or scrotum. This is the most common type of hernia in men.

A femoral hernia is a bulge in the groin, upper thigh, or labia in women. These are ten times more common in women than men. Femoral hernias should always be repaired because of their high risk of strangulation.


Symptoms of hernias:

The most common symptoms of hernias:

  • A bulge in the groin, scrotum, abdomen or belly button area that often increases in size with coughing or straining
  • Mild pain at the hernia site
  • Numbness or irritation due to pressure on the nerves around the hernia
  • Sharp abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting can mean that the intestine has slipped through the hernia sac and is stuck or strangulated. This is a surgical emergency and immediate treatment is needed.


American College of Surgeons