Each organ inside our body is packed within its own chamber. The holding tissues are strong and tight enough that they stay secure even after our rigorous movement is daily life. But then certain incidents can loosen this hold and that can cause a series of anomalies in your health. Medically, this condition is known as hernia.
What is Hernia?
Inside your abdominal muscle, peritoneum, a kind of soft tissue, holds your internal organs in place. If for some reason, an organ pushes through an opening or a soft area in the peritoneum, the condition is called hernia. It is usually visible in the form of a bump in the area. Depending on the location and extent of displacement, it can be either painless or painful, harmless or harmful. However, painlessness in such a condition doesn’t necessarily mean that it is harmless.
What are the types of Hernia?
Depending on the position of the displacement of an organ, hernia can be of 5 types:
Inguinal Hernia: If the intestine or the bladder pushes out through the abdominal wall, it is called an inguinal hernia. It is the most common cause of abdominal hernia. It is more common in men since there is a natural weak spot in the area where their testicles descend from (and the canal may not close entirely). This type of inguinal hernia is called an indirect inguinal hernia. In a direct inguinal hernia, the organs protrude through a weak spot in the abdominal tissue. Pantaloon hernia occurs when both direct and indirect inguinal hernia occur on the same side of the body.
Incisional Hernia: Incisional hernia occurs when an organ pushes out of its place through an improperly healed surgical wound. This can occur if the surgical wound is not aligned properly, due to strenuous activities before the wound heals properly, weakening of the scarred area in later years, etc. The most common victims of such hernia are th elderly and obese people who lead an inactive life post an abdominal surgery.
Femoral Hernia: Most common in pregnant and obese women, femoral hernia occurs when abdominal contents squeeze through a naturally weak area in the abdominal wall. This type of hernia is very rare and is usually harmless. However, if the condition does lead to blocking an artery, surgical treatment becomes necessary.
Umbilical Hernia: When a small part of the small intestine pushes through the abdominal walls near the navel area, it is called an umbilical hernia. It is most common in children and obese women. In children, this type of hernia usually subsides on its own as the abdominal muscles get stronger. However, if a bulge is still visible around the navel area when the child is more than 5 years of age, medical intervention is required.
What causes Hernia?
Hernia is caused due to a combination of two factors – a weak spot in the soft tissue surrounding and organ and a pressure that pushes the organ through the weak spot. But what causes the weakness or the pressure can be versatile.
Causes of unnatural pressure:
- Heavy lifting
- Persistent coughing or sneezing
- Multiple pregnancy
- Ascites (buildup of abdominal fluid)
- Incorrect posture
Causes of occurance of a weak spot:
- Congenital weakness
- Unhealed surgical wound
- Internal injury caused due to external force
- Poor nutrition
- Recurring pregnancies
- Cystic fibrosis
- Chronic lung disease
Sometimes, the cause of hernia remains undetermined. In general, the risk of getting a hernia increases with age. It is also more common in men than in women. Children who are born prematurely must always have an eye out for any anomaly that may indicate a potentially dangerous hernia.
What are the signs and symptoms of Hernia?
The most common symptom of a hernia is a bump in your body. The location and the extent of the bulging depends on the type of hernia and extent of dislocation of the organ. However, in some cases, hernia may not be visible externally at all. Nonetheless, watch out for the following symptoms:
- A bulge in the abdomen, groin, or naval
- Visible lump at certain postures or movements of the body like standing up or coughing etc.
- Pain around the same area
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Acid reflux (Hiatal hernia)
Visit a doctor as soon as you notice any of these anomalies in your body. If your hernia is not treated on time, the damage may progress wherein the protruding organ may block an artery leading to strangulated hernia. Strangulated hernia is a medical emergency and needs to be surgically operated immediately.
How is Hernia treated?
For a painless hernia that does not seem to be affecting your health at the moment, the standard procedure is to wait and watch. Professional massage or physiotherapy may help some patients. However, the key here is to stay under a doctor’s supervision.
When the hernia starts to hamper your bodily functions, medical intervention becomes necessary. Surgery is the way to go. Earlier, a surgeon would cut open your abdomen, push back the protruding organ, mesh and stitch the weak spot and close up the surgical incision. This was a lengthy process that involved a very long and quite painful recovery period. But now the same can be done with very small incisions.
Laparoscopic surgery for Hernia
In a laparoscopic surgery for hernia, a few small holes are made in the surgical area instead of one big cut. A light and a camera is inserted through one whole which shows the condition and the progress of the operation on a monitor. With continuous imaging guidance, the surgeon uses the other incisions to insert tools that guide the organ back to its original position. The same tiny incision can be used to repair the weak spot in your abdominal wall. The tools are retracted from your abdomen and the incisions are sutured.