Mercy Hernia Center - Frequently Asked Questions
What is a hernia?
Imagine a worn tire with an inner tube. As the tire wall weakens or tears, the tube pushes through the opening, causing a bulge. That's what a hernia is like: a bulging of the abdomen through a rupture, weakened hole or slit in the muscular layers of the abdominal wall.
Different Types of Abdominal Hernias:
- Inguinal hernia: Occurring most frequently in men, inguinal hernias are located where the skin crease at the top of the thigh joins the torso. It appears as a bulge near the crease and though it may cause discomfort, it is usually relatively painless. (Direct or Indirect inguinal hernias are very similar in their symptoms, though direct hernias are more common among the elderly.)
- Femoral hernia: Occurring most commonly in women, a femoral hernia is located just below the inguinal crease. This type of hernia is fairly rare and is particularly at risk of becoming stuck out (irreducible).
- Umbilical hernia: This is a common type of hernia usually appearing at birth as a protrusion at the belly button. These hernias are caused when the opening in the abdominal wall, which normally closes at birth, does not completely close. Umbilical hernias which are smaller than one-quarter of an inch usually close gradually by 2 years of age. Larger hernias that do not close may require surgery at 2 - 4 years of age. These hernias can also appear later in life even if not apparent at birth. They most often appear in the elderly, the overweight, or women who have had multiple pregnancies.
- Incisional hernia: Any abdominal surgery causes a flaw in the abdominal wall that usually heals well on its own. This flaw, however, can create an area of weakness that allows a hernia to develop. This occurs in a small percentage of all abdominal surgeries. Some people are more at risk than others. Repaired incisional hernias can have a fairly higher rate of recurrence.
- Spigelian hernia: This rare hernia occurs along the edge of the rectus abdominus muscle, which is several inches to the side of the middle of the abdomen.
- Epigastric hernia: This hernia is seen as a small bulge between the navel and lower rib cage. It is usually composed of fatty tissue and is often painless and unable to be reduced when first discovered.
Who can get a hernia?
Hernias can occur in anyone at any age. In fact, over 6 million Americans live with varying amounts of pain because of untreated hernias - from children with congenital hernias caused by a weakness present at birth to adults with hernias caused by wear and strain over the course of years.
How do I know if I have a hernia?
You can normally recognize a hernia easily. You will see a bulge under the skin and you may feel a dull, aching pain when standing, lifting or straining. Some hernias, however, are not that easily diagnosed. If you think you may have one, it is important to see your doctor for diagnosis.
A hernia that can easily be pushed back in or goes away when you lie down (reducible hernia) is not an immediate danger, though it can be painful. These can be present for many years, in some cases, without getting worse. Hernias that cannot be pushed back and remain out all the time (non-reducible or incarcerated hernia) can become life threatening and may require emergency attention.
It is best to treat a hernia before it becomes non-reducible.
Is there a non-surgical cure?
Non-surgical treatment cannot cure a hernia. A truss may temporarily relieve discomfort. It is used occasionally for patients who are too ill for any surgery. Left untreated, a hernia will usually continue to enlarge. This may have serious consequences. However, it can be repaired effectively through surgery. Hernias are among the most common of medical conditions requiring surgery (with more than 500,000 hernia repairs performed in the U.S. each year). As a specialized center, the Mercy Hernia Center staff is dedicated to practicing techniques and procedures designed to minimize recurrence, prolonged disability and other complications.
Where should I have my hernia repaired?
Centers of excellence, where a team focuses on a specialized area of medical/surgical care obtain superior results at less cost. For all care, including hernia repair, you should look for a center which focuses on your particular problem.
The Mercy Hernia Center is such a center of excellence.