Hernia Risk Factors, Causes, Signs and Symptoms

Anyone can get a hernia, including people of all ages, races and both sexes. People at higher risk for hernia are those who have had hernias before, people with genetic predispositions for getting hernias, people who are overweight and people who smoke.

People who are overweight have more pressure pushing on the abdominal wall. Those who smoke, cough frequently, and have lung problems are at higher risk for forming hernias. People who have had hernias before tend to have them in other places as well.

Some patients may have a family history of hernias. Hernias may be present at birth, but the bulge may not be noticeable until later in life. They tend to occur over time due to wear and tear.

Hernias Due to Activities or Medical Problems

Usually, there is no obvious cause of hernia. However, hernias can occur due to activities or medical problems such as:

  • Chronic constipation, straining to have bowel movements
  • Chronic cough
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Enlarged prostate, straining to urinate
  • Extra weight
  • Fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Heavy lifting
  • Peritoneal dialysis
  • Smoking
  • Overexertion
  • Undescended testicles

Hernia Signs and Symptoms

Some patients may have no symptoms from a hernia. The most common symptom is discomfort and pain related to the hernia itself. The discomfort may be worse when you stand, strain or lift heavy objects. Many people will describe an uncomfortable lump or bulge that may have gotten bigger over time.

In some hernias, intra-abdominal contents such as the small intestine may get stuck in the hernia hole (defect). This is known as an incarcerated or a strangulated hernia. This is a surgical emergency. If a piece of small intestine gets stuck in a hernia, the blood supply to this piece of intestine can become compromised. When this happens, it is a life-threatening surgical emergency.

Diagnosing Hernias

A health care provider can confirm that you have a hernia during a physical exam. The growth may increase in size when you cough, bend, lift or strain. In some cases, an ultrasound may be needed to look for a hernia. Other imaging scans that can be helpful in diagnosing hernia or planning repair include abdominal X-rays and CT scans.

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