A hernia can happen to anyone at any point in their life – and it won’t heal without effective treatment.

Reports estimate that more than 20 million hernias are treated worldwide every year. When left untreated, a hernia can sometimes cause life-threatening complications including blocked blood flow that leads to strangulation of internal organs. Here are some details you need to know – including when you should have a consult for surgery.

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a hole or defect in the abdominal wall. It can happen at any location of the abdomen. The intestine slides through the muscle and protrudes through, making a bulge under the skin.

The symptoms for hernias can vary. Many people have no symptoms at all. Others can experience a feeling of burning and sharp pain. Abdominal bloating, nausea, vomiting and constipation could be a sign of an intestinal obstruction, which is a medical emergency.

How Hernias Happen

Hernias are generally caused by heavy straining and muscle weakness. People who are overweight are at greater risk for developing a hernia because their abdominal pressure is already high. Lifting heavy objects – whether during exercise or when moving into a new house – also increases your risk.

Other medical issues or activities that may lead to a hernia include:

  • Straining on the toilet, likely due to constipation
  • enlarged prostate
  • physical exertion
  • smoking
  • persistent cough

Most people can see quickly that they have a hernia, although some are less obvious. To officially diagnose the problem, a through physical exam is required. A bulge is often visible to the physician, and occasionally imaging may be necessary. This is more often necessary in people who are obese.

You might be thinking, why do I need treatment for a hernia if it isn’t causing pain?
It’s true that some hernias don’t need to be treated immediately, especially if they aren’t causing pain. In these cases, doctors may recommend watching and waiting. But for others, there’s a possibility that the hernia could lead to bowel obstruction. Your hernia may or may not get worse – but it’s important to have your hernia evaluated by a surgeon, even if your plan is to hold off on surgery for a while.

Because surgery is the only way to correct a hernia, several options – including open, minimally invasive and robotic hernia repair – may be considered. Today, most hernias can be treated through minimally invasive procedures that are performed through small incisions in the abdomen, meaning faster recovery and return to normal, daily activities.

If you’ve noticed a bulge in your abdomen, groin pain or felt uncomfortable in your pubic region while coughing, bending or lifting objects, you may have a hernia. To schedule a consultation with one of USA’s general surgeons, call (423) 267-0466.