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Six common questions about hernias

Hernias

Did you know there are almost three times as many hernia surgeries each year than surgeries to remove an appendix? Between 750,000 and 1 million hernia operations are done in the U.S. annually, compared to 280,000 appendix operations. 

Ascension Medical Group general surgeon, E. Ragnar Peterson, MD, answers six common questions about hernias.

What is a hernia?

Put simply, everything in the body is designed to be in its own compartment, with barriers between the compartments. A hernia occurs when a barrier has a hole and tissue from one compartment travels into another compartment.

An example is to imagine your backyard with a fence around it. Next, think about a hole in the fence that allows the neighbor’s cat to run back and forth between the two yards. The hole in the fence represents a hole in your abdominal wall. The cat represents herniated tissue, be it bladder, intestine or fat.

Numerous types of hernias can be found in various locations throughout the body.

What causes a hernia?

Essentially, the body is designed with areas of natural weakness.

The repeated stress of an active lifestyle leads to these weak areas developing into actual holes in the abdominal wall. Hernias are also common after operations in the abdomen. These are referred to as incisional hernias.

Can lifting heavy objects cause a hernia?

The increased abdominal pressure that accompanies straining or lifting can contribute to the formation of a hernia over time.

However, one episode of straining or lifting will not usually cause a hernia. Patients commonly notice the hernia after straining, lifting or running, but the actual weakness in the abdominal wall has been present for a long period of time.

What is the most common type of hernia?

Hernias of the groin, referred to as inguinal hernias, are the most common type and are much more common in men than women.

What are symptoms of a hernia?

A painless bulge is the most common hernia symptom. Pain can occur as well, increasing in severity toward the end of the day.

What are the main treatments?

Surgeons recommend that most hernias be surgically repaired for several reasons. As patients age, hernias tend to get larger, and therefore more difficult to fix.

Smaller hernias can also present problems known as incarceration and strangulation. Incarceration involves the herniated tissue becoming trapped in the wrong compartment. This is not an emergency but is an indication that the hernia should be fixed soon.

Strangulation, however, is a significant complication that is a surgical emergency and can be life-threatening in a matter of hours. The herniated tissue becomes starved of its blood supply and the tissue starts to die.

Most hernia operations are elective and are usually done in an outpatient setting.

For more information and to call for an appointment, please visit viachristi.org/dr-peterson. Or, to contact Dr. Peterson, call 316-613-4707.

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