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Hernias: How to recognize signs and symptoms

April 04, 2017

You’re almost finished unloading the groceries from the car -- the only thing left is the case of bottled water. As you bend to lift it out of the trunk, you feel a sudden “pop,” followed by a shooting pain in your abdomen. Ironically, it’s near a scar from a previous surgery. Could this indicate early signs of a hernia?

What is a hernia?

“A hernia is a hole in the muscle or abdomen where there should not be one,” explains Christopher Schneider, MD, surgeon and co-director of the Hernia Center at Soin Medical Center. “Although hernias happen most often in the groin region or at the belly button, they can occur anywhere in the body, including in areas that are not easily seen. Previous surgeries can weaken the abdominal wall, making a hernia more likely to occur along an existing scar.”

There are many different types of hernias – some that can be seen and some that cannot.

“The most common hernias we see are in the groin, bulges along previous surgical scars, at the belly button, or in the abdomen,” said Dr. Schneider. “Probably in that order.”

Signs and symptoms

Watch for:

  • Any new bulge that comes on suddenly
  • Pain that does not go away
  • Nausea
  • Changes in bowel habits (more constipation or diarrhea)
  • Enlarging size of bulge
  • Difficulty with functions of daily living 

Sports hernia

A sports hernia is a unique type of hernia that may or may not present as a bulge in the groin. This condition can be difficult to detect and treat.

“They can be repaired in severe situations but most will actually resolve with physical therapy and rest and medications. This is different from other hernias, where the hole needs to be fixed to cure the issue,” explained Dr. Schneider.

Dr. Schneider recommends that your doctor examine any new lump, bump, or bulge. Not all hernias need surgery, but all of them should be looked at and discussed in order to prevent emergency situations from happening and to assure long-term health.

In adults, after a hernia forms, it will never go away. The discomfort or pain that comes from the hernia is a result of other structures of the body, such as the bowel or fat, pushing through that hole.

“If the lump does not go away, or if the pain continues to increase, this could indicate a bigger problem,” explains Dr. Schneider. “The bowel or fat could twist on itself and then die off. A hernia in that situation becomes an emergency and could be life-threatening.”

Unfortunately, even after a hernia has already been repaired, there is still always the possibility that it will return.

“Activity too soon after surgery, smoking, significant coughing, obesity, and uncontrolled diabetes all can cause difficulty healing and lead to another hernia,” says Dr. Schneider. “Sometimes, even though a person has done nothing to aggravate it, a hernia can still come back.”

Click here to learn more about hernias and the treatment options available to you through Kettering Health Network.