Every year, more than half a million hernia repairs are performed in the United States. But what is a hernia? What are the main causes? And what risk factors contribute to the development of hernia? In this section, we explore basic information about hernia to help you understand hernias better.
What is a hernia?
The word hernia literally means "a rupture". A hernia occurs anytime tissue protrudes through a structure of the body, or part of an organ protrudes through muscle tissue.
Hernias occur most commonly in the groin (inguinal hernia), the navel (umbilical hernia), and at the incision site of a previous surgery. However, the most common place for hernias to occur is the abdomen. A part of the abdominal wall can become weak, developing a localized hole. This hole is also known as a defect and is an opportunitistic environment for tissues or organs. Once a defect has occurred, abdominal organs may stick out through this hole, for example.
Types of hernia
Abdominal – This type of hernia is described as a protrusion of contents of the coelomic cavity through the wall that contains it.
Diaphragmatic – During a diaphragmatic hernia, a portion of an abdominal organ protrudes into the chest through a hole in the diaphragm.
Epigastric – Epigastric hernias occur above the navel, in the upper-middle area of the abdomen.
Femoral – A femoral hernia occurs when tissue pokes through into the groin, or the top of the inner thigh.
Hiatal – A hiatial hernia develops in a small opening in the diaphragm that allows the upper part of the stomach to move up into the chest.
Incisional – This type of hernia occurs when tissue pokes through a surgical wound or incision that has not fully healed.
Incarcerated – Incarcerated hernias are swollen and cannot be moved which results in the entrapment of tissue or viscera into the hernia sac.
Inguinal – An inguinal hernia occurs when tissue (usually part of the intestines) pokes through your lower abdomen.
Irreducible – An irreducible hernia is a hernia that cannot be reduced without operation, ie a hernia that cannot be moved back into place.
Obstructed - The bowel is trapped and obstructed but viable during an obstructed hernia.
Rectal – Rectal hernias are characterized by a bulging pouch in the rectum that can be the result of aging or pregnancy.
Reducible - A hernia in which the contents of the sac can be returned to their normal location, ie, can be moved back into place is called a reducible hernia.
Strangulated – During a strangulated hernia, the hernia has cut off its own blood supply and is a dangerous complication of the condition.
Umbilical – During an umbilical hernia, tissue pokes through the part of the abdomen near to the navel (belly button).
Ventral – Ventral hernias occur anywhere on the abdominal wall, most commonly at the midline which are composed of fatty tissue or intestines.
Given the many types of hernias, what causes these internal ruptures? Do all hernias have the same cause? And who is at risk of developing a hernia? More here on risk factors and causes of hernia next.
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