What Is A Hernia? Types, Causes, Treatment, And Prevention Tips

Written by , MSc Shaheen Naser MSc Experience: 3 years
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Did you develop a lump on your abdomen or groin? Does this lump ache as you lift a heavy object or when you strain yourself physically in any other way? Then, chances are that you have developed a hernia.

A hernia is usually a result of weakened or injured muscles that can no longer hold your organs in place. Its appearance is quite common in the abdomen and groin areas. Would you like to know more about this condition and your chances of battling it? Keep reading.

What Is A Hernia?

Your organs are often held together in place with the help of muscles or tissues that surround them. A hernia is the result of any of your organs pushing through the opening of its surrounding muscle or tissue.

Hernias most commonly occur in the abdomen. However, they can also appear in your upper thigh, groin area, and belly button. While hernias are not necessarily life-threatening, they do not go away on their own. In some cases, they may require surgery to prevent complications.

Hernias can be divided into different types depending on the area they appear in.

Types Of Hernia

The common types of hernias are as follows (1):

  • Inguinal Hernia

This is the most common type of hernia, and it accounts for around 70% of all hernias. It occurs when the intestine is pushed through a weak or torn spot in your lower abdominal wall, usually in the inguinal canal. This canal is found in the groin. In men, the inguinal canal is the area where the spermatic cord passes via the abdomen to the scrotum and holds the testicles together. Whereas, in women, the inguinal canal helps hold the uterus in place. Inguinal hernias are more common in men than in women.

  • Hiatal Hernia

A hiatal hernia usually occurs when a part of your stomach ends up protruding via the diaphragm into the chest cavity. The diaphragm is the muscle that contracts as you breathe and helps in drawing air into your lungs. It results in the separation of the organs of your chest from that of your abdomen. People who are 50 years or older are more prone to develop a hiatal hernia. If a child is found to be having a hiatal hernia, it is most probably due to a congenital birth defect. To know more about a hiatal hernia and its treatment options, click here.

  • Umbilical Hernia

It often occurs in children and babies below 6 months. This type of hernia is usually a result of the intestine bulging out of the abdominal wall, near the belly button. This bulge is usually evident when the child is crying.

An umbilical hernia usually eases and goes away on its own as the abdominal wall muscles get stronger. This typically happens by the time the child turns a year old. In case the hernia refuses to go away, surgery may be required.

  • Incisional Hernia

Such hernias usually appear following abdominal surgery. Your intestines are at high risk of pushing through the incisional scar or the tissues surrounding them.

  • Femoral Hernia

It occurs in the upper thigh, close to the groin, in an area called the femoral canal. It is usually known to affect women.

  • Epigastric Hernia

It is a result of the tissue poking via a gap in the abdominal wall, which is located between the breastbone and the belly button.

  • Diaphragmatic Hernia

It usually occurs when any of the openings in the diaphragm widens.

Let us now look at the common symptoms that surface with the different types of hernias.

Symptoms Of Hernia

The first and foremost symptom of a hernia is a lump in the affected area. This bulge may be noticed on either side of your pubic bone if it is an inguinal hernia. You are also quite likely to feel a hernia if you stand up, bend down, or cough.

If your little one has hernia, you will be able to see and/or feel the bulge when they are crying. This bulge is the only symptom associated with an umbilical hernia.

The other common symptoms associated with inguinal hernias include (2):

  • Pain or discomfort in the affected area, especially when you bend, cough, or lift anything heavy
  • Pressure or a feeling of heaviness in the abdomen
  • An aching or burning sensation at the site of the lump

Symptoms that may be associated with a hiatal hernia are (3):

In some cases, hernias hardly exhibit any symptoms, and you may not know that you have one unless you undergo a routine physical or medical examination.

Hernias are usually caused by a combination of weakened muscles and strain. Depending on the trigger, a hernia can appear quickly or over a span of time.

Causes And Risk Factors

Muscle weakness is one of the most common triggers for a hernia.

A few common causes of muscle weakness may include:

  • Age – Newborns and older adults have weaker muscles.
  • Inability or failure of the muscles of the abdominal wall to close properly in the womb (a congenital defect)
  • Chronic coughing bouts
  • Surgery or injury

Some factors can also increase your risk of developing a hernia by exerting additional strain on the weak muscles. They are (1):

  • Pregnancy
  • Constipation
  • Heavy weightlifting
  • Fluid build-up in the abdomen
  • Obesity
  • A history of surgery or injury in the affected area
  • A family history of hernias
  • Smoking
  • Medical conditions like cystic fibrosis

If you experience any of the symptoms associated with a hernia, it is better to get yourself diagnosed for the condition to avail prompt treatment.

How To Diagnose A Hernia

Inguinal and incisional hernias are diagnosed through a physical examination. Your doctor may first look for a lump that bulges out in your abdomen/groin when you stand, cough, or strain.

Diagnostic procedures used to detect a hiatal hernia include barium swallow X-ray and endoscopy (4).

  • Barium Swallow X-ray – For this, you may be asked to drink a solution containing barium, and then, a series of X-ray pictures of your digestive tract are recorded. Consuming barium helps the X-ray images show up well.
  • Endoscopy – It involves threading a small camera (endoscope) that is attached to a tube down your throat and then via your esophagus into your stomach. This test also allows the doctor to see the insides of your stomach.

To diagnose umbilical hernia in a child, the doctor may carry out an ultrasound. This test uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the insides of the body.

Treating hernias depend on their size and the severity of the symptoms associated with them.

How To Treat A Hernia

The treatment options for hernia may include:

  • Medications

Medications for hernia are aimed at relieving the symptoms. They include over-the-counter prescription medications like antacids, H-2 receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid and acid reflux symptoms (3).

  • Surgery

If the hernia is causing great discomfort and pain, your doctor may advise you to undergo surgery. The abdominal hole through which the organ or tissue is protruding may be sewn and closed (5).

Hernias are most often repaired with open or laparoscopic surgery. Open surgeries have a long recovery time, and the patient may be unable to move for about six weeks. On the other hand, laparoscopic surgeries have a short recovery time, but the chances of recurrence of hernia are higher. It is also important to note that all hernias are not suitable for laparoscopic repair.

You can manage the symptoms of a hernia and prevent your condition from worsening by making the following changes to your diet and lifestyle.

How To Prevent Hernias

  • Have smaller and frequent meals instead of three big meals.
  • Avoid lying down or bending right after a meal.
  • Keep a check on your weight.
  • Avoid strenuous exercises. Instead, do mild exercises to try and strengthen the affected muscles.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid eating spicy and acidic foods that are known to worsen the symptoms of acid reflux.

As you must have already understood by now, your diet indeed plays an important role in the management of hernia. Hence, let us now see what you should be eating and avoiding while dealing with this condition.

What Should You Eat If You Have A Hernia?

Consume foods low in acid content to manage the symptoms of acid reflux and GERD associated with hernias. Low-acid and fiber-rich foods you can eat if you have a hernia are (6):

  • Apples and bananas
  • Vegetables like carrots, broccoli, leafy greens, peas, and squash
  • Pasture-raised chicken
  • Whole nuts and seeds
  • Yogurt and other probiotic foods like kefir, kombucha, and kimchi

Avoid these foods if you have a hernia:

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Citrus fruits such as oranges, tomatoes, lemons, grapefruits, etc.
  • Spicy or fried foods
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Foods high in sodium
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Whole milk

Availing prompt treatment and making a few lifestyle changes can help you in combating hernia. However, any delay in treatment may lead to complications, such as strangulation of the hernia, which may even turn out to be life-threatening.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a hernia surgery take?

Surgery for correcting hernias usually takes around 30-45 minutes. Post surgery, you should avoid heavy weightlifting and strenuous activities for 4-6 weeks.

How long can you live with a hernia?

Hernias don’t go away on their own. However, if you avail medical treatment, you can deal with the condition successfully. In rare cases, leaving hernias untreated can lead to life-threatening complications.

What not to do when you have a hernia?

You should avoid strenuous physical activities, such as weightlifting and intense exercising if you have a hernia. You must also quit smoking as it can cause chronic coughing, which is again a problem for those who have a hernia.

Can you heal a hernia with exercise?

While you should not do intense exercises, mild to moderate exercises that aim at strengthening the affected muscles can help prevent a recurrence.

What is a sports hernia?

A sports hernia is a painful soft tissue injury that often occurs in the groin. It is usually triggered during any sports that involve twisting movements or sudden direction changes.

How serious is a hernia?

Leaving a hernia untreated may lead to its strangulation. This may lead to complications like the death of the affected tissues.

What foods should I avoid with an inguinal hernia?

Certain foods can worsen the symptoms associated with an inguinal hernia like spicy, acidic, fried, caffeinated, or carbonated foods and drinks. Hence, it is better to avoid such foods.


  1. Hernias: Overview” Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, US National Library Of Medicine.
  2. Hernia, Inguinal” StatPearls, US National Library Of Medicine.
  3. Clinical Signifi cance of Hiatal Hernia” Gut And Liver, US National Library Of Medicine.
  4. Preoperative diagnosis of hiatal hernia: barium swallow X-ray, high-resolution manometry, or endoscopy?” European Surgery, US National Library Of Medicine.
  5. Hernias” Munich: Zuckschwerdt, US National Library Of Medicine.
  6. Fiber-enriched diet helps to control symptoms and improves esophageal motility in patients with non-erosive gastroesophageal reflux disease” World Journal Of Gastroenterology, US National Library Of Medicine.

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Shaheen Naser
Shaheen NaserHealth & Wellness Writer
Shaheen holds a postgraduate degree in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology from Bharathiar University. She is a Geneticist with proficiency in Biotechnology, Immunology, Medical Genetics, Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Genetic Counseling.

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