Moving a heavy object or even coughing can result in a medical condition known as a hernia.
While it's common, many people don't know what a hernia is, according to an expert at Penn State Health, who offered details on causes, symptoms and treatment.
“While we typically associate heavy lifting or strenuous activity with the development of a hernia, other congenital abdominal wall defects can lead to hernia formation with less strenuous activity,” said Dr. Michael Abboud. He is chief of surgery at Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Reading, Pa.
“Hernias may develop in a number of different locations, and can be present at birth or develop later in life, for a number of reasons,” Abboud explained in a Penn State news release.
Classically, a hernia is an organ or tissue bulging beyond its normal confines. This can happen when muscle structure has a weak area, such as in the abdominal wall. The contents of the abdomen push through the wall and form a pouch.
People can develop a variety of hernias — inguinal (groin), umbilical (navel area), ventral (abdominal) or incisional (along a prior abdominal incision).
Most that develop over time owe to a loss of integrity in the muscles and tendons that would contain these organs and support the torso, according to Penn State Health. In response to increased pressure, the abdominal wall can rupture at its weakest point. A hernia that has formed may continue to grow.
Genetic or systemic disorders may predispose people to hernia. Hernias can also form when a surgical wound doesn't heal properly.
Risk factors include chronic coughing, smoking, heavy lifting, straining, obesity and pregnancy, according to Penn State Health.
Small hernias can be free of symptoms or can cause pain or discomfort. Patients with a hernia may complain of a bulge somewhere in the abdominal wall. Coughing or straining may aggravate their pain.
Larger hernias can push against the overlying skin, leading to areas of reddening, decreased blood flow or a break in the skin.
Any abdominal hernia can include complications, but many go undetected if they are asymptomatic or until there is a bowel obstruction, according to Penn State Health.
Hernias may progress over time, possibly cutting off blood flow. Patients should see a doctor to determine the nature and severity of their hernia and to discuss whether it should be watched or surgically repaired.
Repair can be done through open surgery or minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic-assisted surgeries. Open surgery involves creating an incision to repair the hernia using sutures or in combination with mesh.
Approaches are tailored to the patient and clinical condition.
Robotic or laparoscopic approaches offer speedier healing and less pain than open surgery, but limitations and restrictions afterward are often the same, according to Penn State Health.
“In every case, we tailor treatment recommendations to each patient's scenario,” Abboud said. “It is important to ensure patients are educated about their diagnosis and treatment options so they feel comfortable with their physician and treatment plan.”
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on hernia.
SOURCE: Penn State Health, news release, Jan. 11, 2023