Would you know if you were suffering from a hernia?

Did you know that you could suffer from a hernia almost suddenly? Or you might not even know you have one? Yup, doctors say that you may be diagnosed as having a hernia either during a regular medical checkup or it may strike suddenly, requiring a trip to the emergency room.

An abdominal hernia is a soft swelling seen over the abdominal wall and is a condition that afflicts more men than women. It’s formed due to an area of weakness in the muscles of the abdominal wall. In its initial stages, it is seen when the person is either standing, walking, coughing or lifting heavy objects and disappears when you lie down. At this stage, it can still be pushed back into the abdomen. It is when it becomes hard and cannot be pushed back that it causes a problem.

If you are obese, suffer from constipation, apply too much pressure while urinating, have a job that requires you to lift heavy weights, have people in your  immediate family who suffer from the condition or have had a recent surgery in the abdomen, you are more prone to developing a hernia. Even though statistically males are more prone to the disease that does not mean that women are can’t have them.

What makes this condition so unique and generally recurrent is the fact that it is a bilateral disease. This means that if a hernia forms on one side of the body (as in an inguinal hernia) it is very likely that the patient can develop one on the other side as well.

One of the most glaring and important symptoms is the formation of a bulge or lump on the surface of the body associated with pain. This usually happens only in areas like the stomach, groin or a part that has had some kind of surgical procedure. Other signs include a painful swelling that does not reduce on its own or on being pushed back, nausea, vomiting and abdominal bloating.  If left untreated, apart from being extremely painful and uncomfortable it can lead to twisting or torsion of the part that come out of the herniated space. If that is not treated at the earliest, the organ can die and become gangrenous which can then lead to the spread of toxins throughout the body, a condition also known as septicaemia. So getting treated quickly and appropriately is of utmost importance. 

If you do suffer from these symptoms your doctor will most likely come to the conclusion that you are suffering from a hernia. In order to diagnose the condition he/she may do a physical exam to understand the severity of the condition. If he/she requires a better insight he/she may order an ultrasonography as well.

Based on the location of the hernia, your doctor will classify it into any one of the five types – inguinal hernias that are found in the groin, umbilical hernias found at the navel, ventral hernias found on the abdominal wall, incisional hernias present at a previous surgery site and femoral hernias found right above the thigh – and decide a method of treatment. Of all the hernias, almost 75% of the people suffer from an inguinal hernia and about 10% suffer from umbilical hernias.

Once diagnosed, the treatment options greatly depend on the severity of the symptoms. Most doctors will likely monitor the size of the hernia and its associated symptoms to see if it increases over a period of time. There are mainly two methods a doctor can use – a surgical method and a non surgical one.

In order to choose a non-surgical approach the doctor will see that there is not much swelling or bulging in the area. He will then use external help like that of a supportive truss to push back the hernia.

Surgical intervention is used only in more complicated and severe cases. And your doctor will choose to perform any one of the two types of surgeries – laproscopic and open surgery. While a laproscopic surgery is conservative and involves the use of a camera and a scope inserted into the body to fix the hernia, an open surgery is more invasive and requires a large incision along the part where the hernia is present.

How hernia surgery works is that it strengthens the wall of the abdomen by the placement of a prosthetic mesh. This mesh acts as a bridge in the area of muscle weakness. The body tissues grow into the mesh thus repairing the muscle gap, strengthening the abdominal muscle and helps repair the hernia.

While anyone who is fit to undergo general anaesthesia can have a hernia repair surgery, the choice of using an open surgery or laparoscopic surgery greatly depends on the type of hernia. For example laparoscopy is especially performed for an inguinal hernia, since they usually tend to be recurrent and bilateral. A laparoscopic approach is better for quick recovery and is less invasive. In the case of a small inguinal hernia or an umbilical hernia, it has to be treated with open surgery.

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