What Are the Types of Hernias?
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 usually 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 many 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 two types: inguinal and femoral.
Almost all groin hernias are inguinal. 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 two kinds of this hernia:
- Indirect. The more common type; it enters the inguinal canal
- Direct. It 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 probably 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. When this happens, it’s called a strangulated hernia, and it can be life-threatening. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
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 feel any symptoms or see anything until you need medical help right away.
This is the second most common type of hernia. They happen when fat or part of the intestine pushes through muscle near the belly button. They’re more common in newborns -- especially in those born earlier than expected and babies under 6 months old -- but adults can get them, too.
Women are more likely than men to get an umbilical hernia. Your chances are also higher if you:
- Are overweight
- Have been pregnant multiple times
- Have a lot of belly fluid (a condition called ascites)
- Have a long-term cough
- Have trouble peeing because of an enlarged prostate
- Are constipated for long periods of time
- Vomit repeatedly
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.
But surgery can be necessary if the hernia gets bigger or becomes strangulated.
If you have surgery in which a doctor makes an opening through your belly, you might get an incisional hernia later. Tissue can poke through a surgical wound that hasn’t totally healed. Like groin hernias, they can lead to more serious problems if they’re not repaired. The only way to fix them is through surgery, but they can be hard to treat.
Incisional hernias are common in people who have had surgery, especially emergency surgery. You can be more likely to get one if you do any of these things before your incision heals completely:
- Gain a lot of weight
- Exercise too soon or too heavily
- Get pregnant
Your chances are also higher if the wound gets infected or if you:
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.
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 ease symptoms are usually the first line of treatment. Often, though, you might not even know that 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 hernia. 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.