A hernia is when an internal part of the body (such as an organ) protrudes through an area of weakness in the surrounding muscle or tissues. 

What is a hernia?

A hernia is when an internal part of the body (such as an organ) protrudes through an area of weakness in the surrounding muscle or tissues. Most hernias occur in the abdominal area, between the chest and hips.

Hernias may temporarily disappear when you push upon them, or when you lie down.

Types of hernias

There are many different types of hernias, but some of the more commonly occurring types include:

An inguinal hernia is the most common type of hernia, mostly occurring in men.

The inguinal canal is located in the groin, just above the top of the inner thigh. Inguinal hernias occur when fatty tissue or part of your bowel, like the intestine, protrude through the weakened muscle into this area.

Most inguinal hernias occur due to ageing; this is because the abdominal muscles become weaker as we age. Occasionally, these hernias will appear due to increased pressure placed on the abdomen – for example, after carrying something heavy, or straining on the toilet.

Femoral hernias are similar to inguinal hernias, but are more likely to affect women than men. They also involve fatty tissue or part of the bowel protruding into the groin area (specifically the femoral canal). 

Hiatus hernias occur when part of the stomach protrudes into the chest. It is common in people aged 50 and over and does not necessarily require medical intervention.

You may not know that you have a hiatus hernia if you experience no symptoms. However, symptoms can include heartburn, acid reflux, nausea, and bloating.

Hernia diagnosis

Hernias can usually be identified during a physical examination, as there is usually a protrusion within the affected area. 

You may be referred for an ultrasound scan – this will allow your consultant to visualise your hernia more clearly and subsequently plan your treatment. 

Not all hernias will require treatment. However, if your hernia is symptomatic, you may require surgery to fix it. 

You may be advised to have surgery if: 

  • you have a type of hernia that is likely to become strangulated or cause a bowel obstruction 
  • your hernia contains part of your bowel, muscle, or other tissue 
  • you have symptoms that affect your daily life 

If you know you have a hernia and develop severe, sudden pain, you should attend your nearest NHS emergency department without delay.  

This is because, on rare occasions, a hernia can develop into a strangulated hernia (where blood flow is cut off) or cause a bowel obstruction. Both conditions require immediate treatment.  

Additionally, you should seek immediate medical attention if you have a known hernia and develop any of the following symptoms: 

  • a firm, tender hernia that cannot be pushed back in 
  • vomiting 
  • difficulty in defecating or passing wind 

Hernia surgery

Hernias are treated using surgery.

Open surgery is where a large incision is made in order to access the hernia. Laparoscopic surgery (keyhole surgery) is a minimally invasive technique that uses smaller incisions to reduce scarring and improve recovery time.

At Cromwell Hospital, our surgeons are highly experienced in performing laparoscopic procedures using our state-of-the-art robotic technology.

Find out more about colorectal surgery >

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