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Quick Facts

Abdominal Wall Hernias


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Mar 2021| Content last modified Mar 2021
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What is a hernia?

A hernia is the bulge of an organ through the muscle or tissue that holds it in place.

There are many different types of hernias. The most common hernias are in the wall of your abdomen (belly).

What is an abdominal wall hernia?

An abdominal wall hernia is a bulge in your belly. The bulge is made by your small intestine when it pushes through a small hole or weak area in the wall of your belly.

  • An abdominal wall hernia sometimes creates a bulge you can see and may or may not cause pain

  • Abdominal wall hernias are common, particularly in men

  • Heavy lifting or straining may make a hernia look bigger but doesn't cause a hernia

  • Doctors usually treat hernias with surgery

What are the types of abdominal wall hernias?

Hernias are named by where they occur. Abdominal wall hernias can happen in many different places:

  • Inguinal hernia: in the crease of your groin or in your scrotum (the sac around your testicles)

  • Umbilical hernia: around your belly button, which is more common in babies

  • Epigastric hernia: in the middle of your belly, above your belly button and below your rib cage

  • Femoral hernia: just below the crease of your groin in the middle of your upper thigh

  • Incisional hernia: in a place where your abdominal wall had been cut for surgery (this may happen many years after the surgery)

These places are all weak spots in your abdominal wall. An opening can develop on its own or when you strain.

An incarcerated hernia is when a loop of your intestine gets stuck in the hernia. This can block your intestine.

A strangulated hernia is when your intestine is trapped so tightly that its blood supply is cut off. The part of the intestine that isn't getting enough blood can burst and die and, if not treated, can kill you.

A "sports hernia" isn't really a hernia. It's a torn muscle in your lower belly that can cause pain in the same place as a real hernia.

What are the symptoms of an abdominal wall hernia?

Usually, the only symptom of a hernia is a bulge where the hernia is. You may be able to see the bulge only when you lift something or strain. You or your doctor can usually push the bulge back into place.

Incarcerated hernias can't be pushed back into place and can be more painful.

Strangulated hernias can't be pushed back into place and cause these symptoms:

  • Steady pain that gets worse with time

  • Feeling sick to your stomach and throwing up

  • Tenderness of the bulge when touched

  • Sometimes, redness of the skin around the bulge

Incarcerated and strangulated hernias can block your intestines so that food and fluids can't move through them. This blockage is called an intestinal obstruction. Intestinal obstruction makes you sick to your stomach and causes your belly to swell. It's an emergency.

How can doctors tell if I have an abdominal wall hernia?

Doctors usually diagnose an abdominal wall hernia based on an exam. They may also do an ultrasound or CT scan if they want to be sure that your symptoms aren't coming from something else.

How do doctors treat an abdominal wall hernia?

Doctors treat your hernia based on where it is and what symptoms you have. Some hernias are left alone. Other hernias need surgery before they cause problems. But doctors do surgery right away if the hernia is incarcerated or strangulated.

In babies, hernias around the belly button usually go away without treatment.

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