Hernia is a very common problem today; as per research every one in ten person is suffering from hernia. Hernia is a condition in which a structure or an organ of the body protrudes abnormally through an opening in the muscle body tissue that is holding it in place. Caused essentially because of weak muscles and stress, hernia is not life threatening (apart from very rare cases) and is completely curable through medical and home based treatment. The weakness or stress on the concerned structure or organ can be a result of pregnancy, constipation, heavy weight lifting, abdominal fluid, excessive body weight, persistent cough, continuous sneezing, etc. Some of the reasons that lead to weak muscles are – age, chronic coughing, damage from injury, complications from surgery, etc. Apart from weak muscles and consistent strain, a couple of factors can also increase a person’s risk of developing a hernia, these factors include:
- Family history
- Obesity or overweight
- Chronic and prolonged cough
- Severe constipation
- Cystic fibrosis
Hernia can develop in any part of the body including abdomen, upper thigh, groin and belly. Though some common hernias include – inguinal hernia (affecting the intestine), hiatal hernia (affecting the stomach), umbilical hernia (affecting the belly button) and incisional hernia, which is caused due to incompletely healed medical wound. Even though hernia is a very common, it is still important to know the symptoms of hernia to get timely medical help.
Symptoms of Hernia
Symptoms of a hernia depend on case-to-case and the affected area; where some hernias may produce symptoms other might exist but not produce any symptoms. However, some common symptoms that can help detect a hernia include:
- A bulge or lump in a particular area
- Pain or discomfort in an area while bending
- Heavy or dragging sensation in an area
- Abdomen weakness
- Aching or burning sensation on the bulging portion
- Acid reflux
- Acute chest pain
- Difficult in swallowing
- Shooting pain
Also, hernias can cause the organs and structures to become very soft and also become infected, blocked or strangled. Sometimes, children can also develop hernia which can be detected easily while the infant is crying, coughing or straining during a bowel movement. Moreover, infants tend to become more irritable and lose appetite overtime. In a slightly older child, hernia can also be detected while the child stands for too long.
Also, hernia are soft and can be pushed inside; however in some cases hernia can become trapped, resulting in strangulation implying that the blood flow to the trapped tissue will be blocked, causing a life-threatening condition. Symptoms to identify a strangulated hernia condition:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unexplained and growing pain
- Red, purple or dark coloured hernia bulge
- Problem in bowel movement or passing of gas
That said, most hernias are not complicated or life-threatening, though the complications depend on the severity of the condition. Hernia’s do not go away on their own and need medical intervention.
Treatment of Hernia
For hernias that lie silent and do not produce any symptoms, the best course of treatment is to wait and watch; treatment in such cases is only initiated when the hernia starts producing problematic symptoms. However, this methodology does not work in all types of hernia – some hernias even though silent are more risky than others, if not treated timely.
While the most preferred form of treatment of hernia is surgery but the type of surgery depends on case-to-case and also the location of hernia. Two main types of surgeries undertaken to cure hernia include:
- Open surgery
- Laparoscopic surgery
Open surgery: In this type of surgery, the doctor uses sutures, mesh or a combination of both to close the hernia. The wound in the skin is closed by sutures, staples or glue. In this surgery, the doctor makes an incision close to the hernia site and then pushes the bulging structure back inside.
Laparoscopic surgery: In a laparoscopic surgery, the doctor uses a small camera and a tiny surgical equipment to repair the hernia by making only a few small incisions. This type of surgery does not cause any harm to the surrounding body tissues.
The kind of treatment operation depends on case-to-case. Also, it is very common for a hernia to comeback, even after a surgery. All precautions and post-operative care methods must be discussed with the doctor.
In case of a laparoscopic surgery, the patient is allowed to go home on the same day – in most cases. The recovery takes about 1 to 2 weeks, post which the patient can return to normal day-to-day activities, while strenuous activities can be undertaken only after 4 weeks and consultation with the doctor. In case of an open surgery, the patient is discharged on the same day of the procedure, but the recovery can take longer than a laparoscopic surgery. The patient can return to normal light activities in 3 weeks and strenuous activities should be undertaken only after 6 weeks and post-consultation with the doctor.
Not all hernias can be prevented. Hernia’s caused due to genetic factors – such as congenital diaphragmatic hernia, weak muscles, etc. – cannot be avoided. However, in many cases, hernia can be avoided provided, if some precautions are followed:
- Consuming smaller meals
- Maintain healthy weight
- Avoiding or reducing alcohol or tobacco intake
- Avoiding or minimizing intake of certain foods such as spicy or fibre-rich items
- Preventing strain on muscles
- Intake balanced diet
- Using proper lifting techniques for heavy objects
- Avoiding chronic constipation
Hernia is a very common and easily treatable condition. Moreover, with the right diet, exercise and lifestyle choices, it is also possible to prevent hernia in the first place.