Lumps and bumps get a little more common as you age. That doesn’t make finding a new one any less worrisome. Hernias are just the sort of bumps that might frighten you, but their bark is often worse than their bite.
A hernia generally involves an organ — like the stomach or intestines — protruding into a cavity where it shouldn’t be. Most hernias affect men over age 40, but they can actually happen to people of all ages. Here’s what you should know about the different kinds of hernias and when you should worry about them.
There are two kinds of groin hernias that can happen: an inguinal hernia and a femoral hernia. Inguinal hernias are more common and involve the intestine passing through the abdominal wall into the groin or scrotal area. A femoral hernia is similar and shows up as a bulge in the groin, upper thigh, or labia.
These hernias mostly occur at birth, but they can also affect adults. In fact, about 20 percent of babies are born with one. Umbilical hernias develop when the intestine pushes through the umbilical ring — the area where the umbilical cord once passed through. This opening closes up as the baby grows, but can leave a small gap in some cases. Most of these hernias close naturally by age 5. When an umbilical hernia occurs in adults, it can be due to conditions that raise abdominal pressure, like chronic cough, constipation, obesity and straining.
A hiatal hernia is one that you won’t be able to feel on the outside, but you might notice its effects inside your body. This hernia occurs when the stomach pushes up through an opening in your diaphragm and protrudes into your chest. A small hiatal hernia may go unnoticed, but a larger one can give you heartburn as acid goes back up into your esophagus.
Do I need treatment?
Not all hernias need to be treated. Some of them, like umbilical hernias, may get better on their own. If the hernia doesn’t get better on its own, it still might not need treatment, unless it gets worse. Large hiatal hernias, for example, could need to be repaired to alleviate gastric reflux symptoms. While hernias are usually a minor problem, the biggest concern for any type of hernia is strangulation. If the intestine or esophagus that is bulging becomes strangulated, the blood flow is cut off, and it becomes a medical emergency. Loss of blood flow can cause tissue death and infection. Watch for a fast-growing hernia, severe pain, fever, nausea and other signs that you need emergency treatment.
“Discovering a lump that may be a hernia can be concerning, but it is often no cause for alarm,” says Sarah Hilton, a registered nurse. “Get checked out by your doctor to see if your hernia needs treatment.”
Hernias can be a medical emergency, so you shouldn’t ignore one when it shows up. Your doctor can tell you the best way to deal with a hernia and help you get back to doing the things you love without a hernia getting in the way.