Here's what you need to know about hernias, which occur in adults as well as children

Denise Dador Image
Tuesday, December 17, 2019
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Doctors perform about a million surgeries every year for hernias, which occur in adults as well as children. But many people don't even know what's causing that acute pain and discomfort. Here's what you need to know.

We tend to do a lot of lifting this time of year, so getting a hernia during the holidays isn't out of the question. Doctors perform about a million hernia surgeries every year, but many people don't even know what's causing that acute pain and discomfort.

Does laughing, coughing or lifting weights cause a pain in your abdomen or groin area? You might have a hernia.

"Now, we have some natural breaks in the abdominal wall that have to occur. But when something else that's not supposed to go through there goes through that area, that's what creates a hernia," Dr. Donald Dilworth of the Baptist Health System Hernia Center said.

A hernia usually causes a soft bulge in the chest, abdominal or groin wall. There are six types but the most common is an inguinal hernia and it mainly occurs in men.

"We have some hernias that have spleens in them, livers in them, things like that. Typically, it's either intestines or fat," Dilworth said.

Hernias not only occur in adults. The inguinal wall in a baby closes shortly after birth. But if it doesn't fully close, a hernia might develop but not show up until the child grows up. The only option to fix the hernia is surgery, but there is a remote risk for mesh infection, explained Dilworth.

A hernia mesh is a medical sheet used to repair the rupture. If it fails it could cause more pain than the hernia itself. Other repair options are widely unavailable, but researchers are working on a new flexible patch that eventually biodegrades in the body. It's just been patented in the U.S.

You cannot prevent an inguinal hernia in a child, but for adults, try to keep your weight down, don't strain while using the bathroom, exercise regularly to strengthen your abdomen and avoid lifting heavy objects. And bigger hernias are less dangerous than small ones.

"The smaller they are the more risk they might be for getting intestines stuck in them," said Dilworth.

Nearly one in four men will get a hernia in their lifetime. Also, up to 10% of premature babies could be affected by a hernia. And for moms, pregnancy could increase your risk for a hernia as being pregnant can weaken the muscles in the abdomen and cause increased pressure inside.