A hernia occurs when part of an internal organ or tissue bulges through a weak area of a muscle, mostly in the abdomen, according to Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Hiatal and inguinal hernias are the most common types of hernia, and people who are male, obese or ages 50 and older are at risk, according to Mayo Clinic.
A hiatal hernia occurs when “part of your stomach pushes upward through your diaphragm. Your diaphragm normally has a small opening (hiatus) through which your food tube (esophagus) passes on its way to connect to your stomach. The stomach can push up through this opening and cause a hiatal hernia,” according to Mayo Clinic.
Hiatal hernias are generally unnoticeable and difficult to detect. These types of hernias only pose a health threat when they enlarge, allowing food and acid to back up into your esophagus, leading to heartburn. “Self-care measures or medications can usually relieve these symptoms, although a very large hiatal hernia sometimes requires surgery,” according to Mayo Clinic.
Lifestyle changes may help control the signs and symptoms of acid reflux caused by a hiatal hernia. Consider trying to:
- Eat several smaller meals throughout the day rather than a few large meals
- Avoid foods that trigger heartburn, such as chocolate, onions, spicy foods, citrus fruits and tomato-based foods
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Eat at least two hours before bedtime
- Stop smoking
- Elevate the head of your bed 6 inches
An inguinal hernia occurs when “soft tissue – usually part of the membrane lining the abdominal cavity (omentum) or part of the intestine – protrudes through a weak point in the abdominal muscles. The resulting bulge can be painful, especially when you cough, bend over or lift a heavy object,” according to Mayo Clinic.
Inguinal hernias can lead to life-threatening complications and require surgery. Inguinal hernias do not have an apparent cause, but many factors can lead to inguinal hernias, including:
- Increased pressure within the abdomen
- A pre-existing weak spot in the abdominal wall
- A combination of increased pressure within the abdomen and a pre-existing weak spot in the abdominal wall
- Straining during bowel movements or urination
- Heavy lifting
- Fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
- Excess weight
- Chronic coughing or sneezing
Complications of an inguinal hernia include:
- Pressure on surrounding tissues. Most inguinal hernias enlarge over time if they're not repaired surgically. Large hernias can put pressure on surrounding tissues. In men, large hernias may extend into the scrotum, causing pain and swelling.
- Incarcerated hernia. If the omentum or a loop of intestine becomes trapped in the weak point in the abdominal wall, it can obstruct the bowel, leading to severe pain, nausea, vomiting and the inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas.
- Strangulation. An incarcerated hernia may cut off blood flow to part of your intestine. This condition is called strangulation, and it can lead to the death of the affected bowel tissue. A strangulated hernia is life threatening and requires immediate surgery.
Prevention of inguinal hernias is similar to that of hiatal hernias – maintain a healthy weight, eat high-fiber foods, limit alcohol consumption, avoid heavy lifting and stop smoking.
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