A hernia develops when an internal organ pushes through a weakened area in the muscle or tissue that is meant to hold it in place. As June is Hernia Awareness Month, we have listed 10 ways to spot if you have a hernia, so you can seek medical advice.

A bit about hernias

Hernias occur most frequently in the abdomen – either in the upper abdomen (hiatal hernia) or at the site of recent surgery (incisional hernia).

You may also develop a hernia in your belly button (umbilical hernia), inner groin (inguinal hernia), or outer groin (femoral hernia). 

Hernias can range from being mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful. If left untreated the muscle can widen and split so more of the internal organ or abdominal tissue is forced through the opening, forming a larger and larger bulge. If the blood supply to the hernia is cut off (referred to as a strangulated hernia) it is potentially life-threatening and you will need to undergo emergency surgery. 

Among the factors that can cause hernias are:

  • being overweight
  • smoking which can trigger a chronic cough
  • chronic constipation
  • conditions like Cystic Fibrosis
  • a family history of hernias
  • chronic cough

Here are some of the symptoms to look for that may indicate you have a hernia:

  1. A lump or bulge – this is the most common way to tell that you may have a hernia. It is important to get a proper diagnosis, even if there is no pain, as a lump can also be caused by a serious condition like cancer.
  2. Pain – not all hernias are painful at first but the pain tends to increase if they are left untreated. Pain levels can range from mild to severe and pain may become worse when bending or lifting.
  3. Discomfort and feeling full – if you have an umbilical or hiatal hernia you may feel full, bloated or uncomfortable in your stomach. An inguinal hernia may create a dragging sensation in your groin.
  4. Digestive problems and nausea – with hernias of the groin or abdomen, you may experience digestive problems, heartburn, nausea or constipation. If the blood supply to the hernia is cut off (a strangulated hernia) you will develop nausea, vomiting, fever and problems going for a poo or passing wind. This can be life-threatening and you will need emergency surgery.
  5. Muscle weakness – a hernia weakens the muscle at the site of the muscle split, causing the surrounding muscles also to become weakened. You may be given a surgical belt or truss (elasticised underwear) to prevent the bulge from slipping in and out. You can also gently manipulate the hernia back into place using massage.
  6. Vomiting – if a hernia starts to cause nausea and vomiting it can be a sign that part of the intestines is trapped outside the abdomen. This can cause a potentially fatal bowel obstruction and requires emergency surgery.
  7. Nerve pain in other parts of the body – a hernia can irritate the nerves, sending pain along the nerve root to other parts of the body. Someone with a groin hernia, for example, might experience pain in the legs, scrotum or labia. 
  8. Pain linked to movement – hernias become more painful when you make sudden movements, such as coughing or sneezing, Sitting down for long periods can also be painful if you have an abdominal hernia.
  9. Symptoms worsen by the end of the day – Having a hernia places a strain on your body and many people notice a worsening of symptoms towards the end of the day, particularly if they have been standing for a long time or exerting themselves.
  10. No external symptoms – it is possible to have an internal hernia and to have no obvious sign on the outside of your body. If you experience undiagnosed pain it is a good idea to visit a doctor as it may be an internal hernia. If left untreated it could cause dangerous health problems.

Working with a specialist that can promptly diagnose and monitor your symptoms, will give you the best chance to get back to feeling your best