A hernia is the exit of an organ, such as the bowel, through the wall of the cavity in which it normally resides. Hernias come in a number of different types. Most commonly they involve the abdomen, specifically the groin. Groin hernias are most common of the inguinal type but may also be femoral. Other hernias include hiatus, incisional, and umbilical hernias. For groin hernias symptoms are present in about 66% of people. This may include pain or discomfort especially with coughing, exercise, or going to the toilet. Often it gets worse throughout the day and improves when lying down. A bulging area may occur that becomes larger when bearing down. Groin hernias occur more often on the right than left side. The main concern is strangulation, where the blood supply to part of the bowel is blocked. This usually produces severe pain and tenderness of the area. Hiatus or hiatal hernias often result in heartburn but may also cause chest pain or pain with eating.
Risk factors for the development of a hernia include: smoking, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obesity, pregnancy, peritoneal dialysis, collagen vascular disease, and previous open appendectomy, among others. Hernias are partly genetic and occur more often in certain families. It is unclear if groin hernias are associated with heavy lifting. Hernias can often be diagnosed based on signs and symptoms. Occasionally medical imaging is used to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other possible causes. Groin hernias that do not cause symptoms in males do not need to be repaired. Repair, however, is generally recommended in women due to the higher rate of femoral hernias which have more complications. If strangulation occurs immediate surgery is required. Repair may be done by open surgery or by laparoscopic surgery. Open surgery has the benefit of possibly being done under local anesthesia rather than general anesthesia. Laparoscopic surgery generally has less pain following the procedure. About 27% of males and 3% of females develop a groin hernia at some time in their life. Groin hernias occur most often before the age of one and after the age of fifty. Inguinal, femoral and abdominal hernias resulted in 32,500 deaths in 2013 and 50,500 in 1990. The first known description of a hernia dates back to at least 1550 BC in the Ebers Papyrus from Egypt.
Signs and symptoms
By far the most common hernias develop in the abdomen, when a weakness in the abdominal wall evolves into a localized hole, or “defect”, through which adipose tissue, or abdominal organs covered with peritoneum, may protrude. Another common hernia involves the spinal discs and causes sciatica. A hiatus hernia occurs when the stomach protrudes into the mediastinum through the esophageal opening in the diaphragm. Hernias may or may not present with either pain at the site, a visible or palpable lump, or in some cases more vague symptoms resulting from pressure on an organ which has become “stuck” in the hernia, sometimes leading to organ dysfunction. Fatty tissue usually enters a hernia first, but it may be followed or accompanied by an organ. Hernias are caused by a disruption or opening in the fascia, or fibrous tissue, which forms the abdominal wall. It is possible for the bulge associated with a hernia to come and go, but the defect in the tissue will persist. Symptoms and signs vary depending on the type of hernia. Symptoms may or may not be present in some inguinal hernias. In the case of reducible hernias, a bulge in the groin or in another abdominal area can often be seen and felt. When standing, such a bulge becomes more obvious. Besides the bulge, other symptoms include pain in the groin that may also include a heavy or dragging sensation, and in men, there is sometimes pain and swelling in the scrotum around the testicular area. Irreducible abdominal hernias or incarcerated hernias may be painful, but their most relevant symptom is that they cannot return to the abdominal cavity when pushed in. They may be chronic, although painless, and can lead to strangulation (loss of blood supply) and/or obstruction (kinking of intestine). Strangulated hernias are always painful and pain is followed by tenderness. Nausea, vomiting, or fever may occur in these cases due to bowel obstruction. Also, the hernia bulge in this case may turn red, purple or dark and pink. In the diagnosis of abdominal hernias, imaging is the principal means of detecting internal diaphragmatic and other nonpalpable or unsuspected hernias. Multidetector CT (MDCT) can show with precision the anatomic site of the hernia sac, the contents of the sac, and any complications. MDCT also offers clear detail of the abdominal wall allowing wall hernias to be identified accurately.
Furthermore, conditions that increase the pressure of the abdominal cavity may also cause hernias or worsen the existing ones. Some examples would be: obesity, straining during a bowel movement or urination (constipation, enlarged prostate), chronic lung disease, and also, fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites). Also, if muscles are weakened due to poor nutrition, smoking, and overexertion, hernias are more likely to occur. The physiological school of thought contends that in the case of inguinal hernia, the above-mentioned are only an anatomical symptom of the underlying physiological cause. They contend that the risk of hernia is due to a physiological difference between patients who suffer hernia and those who do not, namely the presence of aponeurotic extensions from the transversus abdominis aponeurotic arch. Abdominal wall hernia may occur due to trauma. If this type of hernia is due to blunt trauma it is an emergency condition and could be associated with various solid organs and hollow viscus injuries.