What is a Hernia?


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DEFINITION – What is a Hernia?

A hernia is what happens when the tissue within a bodily cavity pushes through its natural restraining wall. Normally sections of fatty tissue or intestine within the abdomen are contained within a thin skin or membrane that lines the wall structures, but when a weak area or tear occurs, they can bulge outwards, pushing right through into the lateral cavity.

In many cases, hernias are asymptomatic and people don’t realize anything has happened. Hernias can also be quite painful, and often the pain presents even while resting. The greater concern is strangulation of the bulging tissue. As the muscle wall where it pushed through eventually tightens up around it, enough pressure can exist to severely constrict the blood flow. Such a situation requires immediate surgical care, as a reduction in oxygen from a reduced blood supply can potentially kill the tissue, leading to all sorts of serious complications. Hernias are generally the result of a seam weakness or a wall failure due to a natural or external cause. While some hernias are present at birth, the majority come about later in life. Pressure within the abdominal cavity is a major cause of hernias, driven by various factors such as poor diet, obesity, excess fluid in the cavity, heavy lifting, forceful coughing, and straining abdominal muscles during evacuation. Surgery is another common cause of abdominal wall failure; in fact between 2% and 10% of people who have received abdominal surgery eventually experience a hernia.


There are several general categories of hernia that you can have. The most common are the following:

  • Incisional: The result of a surgical incision or trauma.
  • Inguinal: Occurring in the inner groin area.
  • Femoral: Affecting the outer groin.
  • Umbilical: Related to the belly button.
  • Hiatal: Within the upper stomach.

The second example, inguinal, occurs where the thigh joins with the torso, at the inguinal crease. This seam is responsible for three quarters of all abdominal hernias, and men are 25 times more likely to experience an inguinal hernia than women. If you feel a soft bulge in your stomach or groin area that seems to disappear when you lay down or when you press directly on it, you may have a hernia, and you should go see a doctor. This is especially so if you feel pain in the same area when you use the toilet, cough forcefully, lift something heavy, or even when you just bend over. A hernia may also present itself as an extremely painful and tender lump that cannot be pushed down (it has become irreducible). In such a case, strangulation is likely occurring and an urgent visit to the emergency room is necessary. A strangulated piece of intestine can lead to a dead bowel in just six hours.

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