From blinking an eye to running a marathon, the muscles throughout your body make your every movement possible. But that’s not all they do. Because muscle is dense and strong, it also helps hold your organs in place.
Sometimes though, you can get a weak spot in a wall of muscle that’s normally tight. When that happens, an organ or some other tissue can squeeze through the opening and give you a hernia.
Picture an inner tube bulging through a hole in a beat-up tire -- you get a bubble popping out where it doesn’t belong.
There are a lot of different types of hernias. They can hurt, but most of the time, you’ll just see a bulge or lump in your belly or groin. And they don’t usually go away without some kind of treatment, which often means surgery.
About 3 out of every 4 hernias are in the groin. There are 2 types: inguinal and femoral.
Inguinal: Almost all groin hernias are this kind. You get them when part of your intestine pushes through a weakness in the lower belly and affects an area of the groin called the inguinal canal.
There are 2 kinds of this hernia:
- Indirect. The more common type; it enters the inguinal canal
- Direct. Does not enter the canal.
People often get them by lifting heavy objects.
They’re much more common in men than women, but they’re not limited to adults. In fact, surgery to repair them is one of the most common operations for kids and teens.
With an inguinal hernia, you’ll likely see a lump where your thigh and groin come together. It may seem to go away when lying down, but you see it clearly when you cough, stand, or strain. If it causes you pain, it may get worse when you bend over, cough, or lift something heavy.
Generally, these hernias aren’t dangerous. But if you don’t treat them, they can lead to more severe problems. For example, the part of the intestine that’s poking through can have its blood supply cut off. That can be life-threatening. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Hernia lump turns red, purple, or dark
- Pain gets a lot worse really fast
- Throwing up or feeling like you might
- You can’t pass gas or poop
Femoral: Only a few out of every 100 groin hernias are femoral. They’re more common in older women. They are often mistaken for inguinal hernias.
They bulge into a different area of the groin called the femoral canal. You might see a lump right around the crease of the groin or just into the upper thigh.
They can be life-threatening in the same way as inguinal hernias. The danger with femoral hernias, though, is that you often don’t get feel any symptoms or see anything until you need medical help right away.
Adults can get umbilical hernias, but they’re more common in newborns -- especially when born earlier than expected and babies under 6 months old. They’re the second most common hernias. They happen when fat or part of the intestine pushes through muscle near the belly button.
Umbilical hernias don’t usually hurt. They just show up as a lump near, or even in, the belly button. In babies, they often go back into place by the first birthday, so no treatment is needed.
You can have surgery on an umbilical hernia, but typically you’d only get it because of the way the bulge looks. It won’t lead to any other health problems.
After surgery in which a doctor must make an opening through your belly, you might get an incisional hernia. Tissue pokes through a surgical wound that hasn’t totally healed. Like groin hernias, they can lead to more serious problems if not treated.
For people who’ve had surgery, these are fairly common. The only way to fix them is through another surgery, but they can be hard to treat.
These are a little different from the others because they involve your diaphragm, the sheet of muscle that separates your chest from your belly. Your esophagus runs from your throat to your stomach and passes through an opening in the diaphragm.
With a hiatal hernia, part of the stomach bulges up through this opening and into the chest. You won’t see any lump with one, but you might get heartburn, chest pain, and notice a bad, sour taste in your mouth.
They’re the most common hernias for pregnant women, but they’re most often found in people 50 and older.
Lifestyle changes and drugs to relieve symptoms are usually the first line of treatment. Often though, you might not even know you have one and wouldn’t need to do anything about it.
Less common types include:
- Epigastric hernia. This is when fat pushes through the belly somewhere between the belly button and lower part of the breastbone. These show up in men more often than women.
- Giant abdominal wall hernia. You might get one of these if you have an incisional hernia or some other kind that’s hard to treat and keeps coming back. You usually need more surgery to fix it.
- Spigelian. You get this type when fat tissue pushes through muscle below your belly button along the bottom edge of where your six-pack might be.