Understanding Hernias and How to Prevent Them - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on January 08, 2014

Understanding Hernias and How to Prevent Them

A hernia is one of those things that can either go completely unnoticed or be extremely painful.  

But what exactly is it anyway?

A hernia occurs when pressure pushes an organ or fatty tissue through a weak spot in the surrounding muscle or connective tissue. Even though it can happen in a number of different places in the body, the most common hernias occur in the inner and outer groin, the belly button, the upper stomach, or from an incision that hasn’t completely healed. According to Crozer-Keystone Health Network surgeon Patrick Elliott, M.D., a hernia can develop slowly over time or happen suddenly, depending on the cause.

“Hernias that are not repaired can ultimately get larger and become more symptomatic, limiting [a patient’s] ability to complete a job or do exercise,” said Dr. Elliott.

Anything that puts pressure on an organ or tissue can lead to a hernia, such as lifting heavy objects, diarrhea or constipation, chronic coughing or sneezing, suddenly gaining weight, or fluid in the abdomen. Other factors that can weaken the muscles, such as obesity, poor nutrition, age and smoking make hernias more likely.

So how do you know if you have one? The telltale sign that you have a hernia includes a bulge or lump in the affected area, which you’ll likely feel when standing. A hernia in the inner groin, which is the most common type, may cause pain, weakness, or pressure. An abdominal hernia might lead to acid reflux, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. But not all hernias cause swelling or pain in the area, and you may not even know you have one until a doctor discovers it during a physical exam.

If your hernia is small and doesn’t cause discomfort, you might not need treatment. Instead, your doctor may recommend simple lifestyle changes such as eating small and light meals. He may also recommend you avoid lying down or bending over after eating and that you maintain a healthy weight. If you’re experiencing severe pain and discomfort, however, you’ll need to have surgery to fix the hernia. Dr. Elliott says surgery typically involves inserting prosthetic mesh into the affected area to contain the herniated tissue.

“Mesh repairs are the safest most efficient way to repair defects in the abdominal wall,” said Dr. Elliott. “[They have] the lowest recurrence and complication rates.”

To avoid ending up in this scenario, you can take steps right now to reduce your chances of getting a hernia down the road. Here’s how:

  • See your doctor if you get sick and/or develop a persistent cough, which can lead to a hernia.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to reduce the pressure on your body.
  • Eat a high-fiber diet to prevent constipation, which can cause or worsen an existing hernia.
  • Limit the amount of strain you place on your body.
  • Quit smoking.

Dr. Elliott says that ultimately, there isn’t much an individual can do to prevent a hernia unless they’re willing to limit physical activity. However, he says that quick attention to a hernia can prevent the injury from becoming worse.

“Timely repair can prevent the complications and consequences of an untreated hernia.”

If you think you have a hernia, contact your physician right away.

To make an appointment with Dr. Elliot, call (610) 521-4833. For a Crozer-Keystone physician that’s right for you, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH or visit us at http://www.crozerkeystone.org.

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