A hernia is a bulge formed by a part of an organ (usually the intestine or stomach) when it pushes against a weak spot in the muscle wall that encloses it. It occurs when straining exerts pressure on the weak region such as while lifting heavy objects, having a bowel movement, chronic cough or being obese. Other causes may include an enlarged prostate, poor nutrition, a previous surgical incision (incisional hernia) or when the muscles around the navel do not close at birth. Hernias are common in the abdomen (ventral hernia), belly button (umbilical hernia), at the junction where the esophagus (food pipe) enters the stomach (hiatal hernia) and groin (inguinal hernia).
Surgery is the treatment of choice for hernias. An emergency procedure is performed when the hernia is strangulated or trapped through the weak spot and the blood supply is cut off. This is a very dangerous complication as it can lead to infection and death of the tissue.
The surgery is performed under spinal or general anesthesia as an open or minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure. In open or conventional surgical repair, the surgeon makes a large incision over the hernia site; whereas, in laparoscopic surgery, several small incisions are made. With laparoscopy or robotic surgery, a narrow, lighted scope, called a laparoscope, is inserted through one incision to enable the surgeon to view the abdomen clearly, and surgical instruments are inserted through the other incisions to repair the hernia.
Your doctor pushes the bulge back into place and may stitch together the weak muscles or tissues. Sometimes, a piece of synthetic or biologic mesh is sutured to reinforce the weak region. The incision(s) are closed with stitches or staples.
After surgery, your doctor prescribes medications to relieve pain. You can start walking as soon as possible to promote faster recovery and prevent blood clots. You should avoid performing activities such as lifting heavy objects or vigorous exercises for a few weeks or until advised by your doctor.
Hernias can be prevented by losing weight if you are overweight, avoiding constipation, using correct lifting techniques and exercising regularly.