A hernia refers to a condition in which an organ or other bodily matter bulges through the muscle or tissue that normally holds it in place. Hernias occur most often in the abdomen, but they can also occur in the groin or the upper thigh. This muscle weakness can be caused by a number of factors, including age, damage from injury, chronic coughing, sudden weight gain, or birth defects.
On their own, hernias may not cause any symptoms, though they can lead to slight or severe pain and run the risk of cutting off the blood supply to protruding tissues. Although most hernias aren’t immediately life-threatening, they won’t go away on their own. This is why it’s especially important to learn how to manage and treat a hernia.
Identify Which Type of Hernia You Have
If you suspect you may have a hernia, either because of a bulge, pain, or other symptoms listed below, you should consult a medical professional. A doctor will not only provide a proper diagnosis, but help to safely monitor the hernia for any further complications. These are the most common types of hernia.
This is the most common type of hernia, occurring when the intestines push through a weak spot or tear in the lower abdominal wall. This often affects the inguinal canal, which is found in your groin. Inguinal hernias are more common in men because the testicles descend through the inguinal canal shortly after birth. This canal doesn’t always close properly, which leaves the area weakened and prone to hernias.
Symptoms include a lump on either side of the pubic bone, most apparent when standing. You may also feel pain or a pinching sensation when coughing, bending, or lifting.
A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm, into the chest cavity. These are most common in people over 50, though children can also develop this condition related to a birth defect. Common symptoms include acid reflux, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing.
Umbilical hernias typically affect children and babies under six months old, occurring when the intestines bulge through the abdominal wall near the bellybutton. This can appear as a visible bulge, becoming especially apparent when the child is crying. Unlike other types of hernia, umbilical hernias heal on their own as the muscles in a child’s abdominal wall grow stronger. If the hernia hasn’t healed by the time the child is one year old, surgery may be required.
An incisional hernia may occur after you’ve had some sort of abdominal surgery as your intestines have a greater likelihood of pushing through the incision scar or the surrounding tissue. The most common symptom of an incisional hernia is a bulge or swelling at the surgical site.
Change Your Diet
Hiatal hernias, in particular, are often accompanied by acid reflux, which in the most extreme cases can lead to GERD, a serious intestinal disorder. Along with avoiding spicy, acidic, and fatty foods that can exacerbate acid reflux symptoms, you shouldn’t eat especially large meals as this places increased pressure on your abdomen. Instead, eating several smaller meals throughout the day can help to relieve symptoms. Also, try not to lie down, bend over, or take part in any strenuous physical activity after a meal. Although dietary changes can relieve some of these symptoms, a diet alone won’t heal a hernia.
Exercise and Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity affects about a third of the U.S. population as well as people around this world, which is especially problematic for those who suffer from hernias. Being overweight places an added strain and pressure on the abdominal muscles, making them weaker and more prone to developing a hernia. Because of this, it’s important to establish an exercise routine along with a healthy diet in order to lose weight. It is recommended that you take part in some form of aerobic exercise a minimum of three times per a week for at least 20 minutes per session.
There are also certain exercises you can do that may help strengthen the muscles around a hernia site. One example is to lie on your back with your hands by your sides and lift both knees into the air. You can then perform a pedaling motion with both legs until you feel a burning sensation in your abdomen. However, you should be careful as exercises done improperly can increase the pressure around a hernia and cause the site to bulge even more. It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor or a physical therapist about which exercises you should try and which you should avoid.
Smoking can increase your stomach acid, worsening symptoms like acid reflux. If surgery is required, your doctor may advise you to stop smoking in the months beforehand because smoking makes it harder for your body to heal. Smoking also raises your blood pressure and increases your risk of a hernia recurring.
Apply an Ice Pack to the Hernia Site
To relieve mild discomfort, applying an ice pack to the site of your hernia for 10 to 15 minutes may reduce swelling and inflammation. With your doctor’s approval, you can do this once or twice a day. Be sure not to apply ice or an ice pack directly to your skin. Instead, always wrap the ice pack in a towel or thin cloth in order to prevent tissue damage.
Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen may be enough to relieve the pain and discomfort from your hernia. However, if you are relying on these for more than a week, or if the normal dosage does not seem to help, talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a stronger pain medication.
Antacids may provide quick, temporary relief of acid reflux symptoms. A doctor may also prescribe proton pump inhibitors (PPI), which block the mechanism in your body that produces stomach acid.
Consider Surgical Options
You may be able to manage the pain and other symptoms related to a hernia at home. However, you will not be able to repair the damage without surgery. During the procedure, a surgeon will make a cut or series of cuts near the hernia. Any strangulated tissue may be removed, and the hernia is gently pushed back into your abdomen. The surgeon will then close the weakened muscles with stitches, often sewing a hernia mesh in place to strengthen your abdominal wall.
Although surgery may be the only way to repair your hernia, there are significant risks involved with hernia meshes, such as infection, mesh rejection, and nerve damage. Be sure to do some research and speak with your doctor about these risks before opting for surgery.
By making a few adjustments to your lifestyle, it is possible to increase your overall health and lessen the symptoms of a hernia. Avoiding certain foods can reduce the discomfort caused by hernia-related heartburn, and by introducing regular exercise along with a healthy diet, you can lose weight and decrease the pressure on your abdomen. Though you will not be able to fully heal a hernia on your own, taking the time to understand your options for treatment will allow you to relieve the daily pain of living with a hernia.