Five million Americans suffer from hernias every year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. While a good number of these hernia cases require surgery to relieve a patient's discomfort and prevent serious complications, other cases can be managed by gently pushing the hernia back in and following a watch-and-wait approach under the guidance of a doctor.

A hernia occurs when part of an organ (usually the intestines) sticks through a weak point or tear in the thin muscular wall that holds the abdominal organs in place. Hernias can occur in both men and women of all ages, as well as in children.

There are several types of hernias, based on where they occur:

Inguinal hernia. This appears as a bulge in the groin or scrotum and occurs when tissue pushes through a weak spot in your groin muscle. This type is more common in men than women - nearly 10 times more likely for men. Some inguinal hernias don't cause any symptoms and you may not know that you have one until your doctor discovers it during a routine medical exam.

Femoral hernia. This appears as a bulge in the upper thigh. This type is more common in women than in men. The symptoms are typically a tender lump in the groin or groin discomfort or pain aggravated by heavy lifting or bending.

Incisional hernia. This can occur through a scar if you have had abdominal surgery. A history of multiple abdominal surgeries can increase your risk for this type of hernia. Reports show that incisional hernias are most likely to occur in obese and pregnant patients.

Umbilical hernia. This appears as a bulge around the belly button. It occurs when the muscle around the navel doesn't close completely. Umbilical hernias are most common in infants, but they can affect adults as well. To prevent complications, umbilical hernias that don't disappear by age 4 or those that appear during adulthood may need surgical repair.

A hernia can be uncomfortable and feel tender, especially when you bend and lift heavy objects. If you have a hernia, it may be difficult for you to do your typical activities, like grocery shopping or having sex.

If you suspect a hernia, contact your doctor right away to schedule an exam.

In the meanwhile, you should avoid certain activities that increase the pressure of the abdominal cavity and/or groin area, including:

Activities to Avoid if You Have or Suspect a Hernia

  • Heavy lifting
  • Straining during a bowel movement
  • Becoming overweight
  • Smoking (you want to avoid coughing)
  • Sex (if it irritates the hernia or is painful)

Note: If untreated, hernias can lead to dangerous complications. If you believe you have a hernia, there is nothing to worry about as long as you consult your doctor without delay.


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Mayo Clinic Staff. Inguinal Hernia - Prevention. Accessed Dec. 14, 2009.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Umbilical Hernia, Information Page. Accessed Dec. 14, 2009.

Nordqvist, C. What is a Hernia? What are the Symptoms of a Hernia? Medical News Today. March 16, 2009.

Russel, H. Understanding Hernias. Accessed Dec. 15, 2009.