Hernia Basics

What is a hernia?
Signs & Sypmtoms
Hernia Types

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a protrusion of an internal organ or tissue through a normal or abnormal opening in the body wall.  Most hernias occur in the abdominal wall through congenital and /or acquired defects.


  • Congenital hernia: openings in the body wall from the time of birth that fail to close, or re-open over time;

  • Congenital hernias often appear in the groin and umbilicus (navel);

  • Children’s hernias are routinely congenital;

  • Acquired hernia: occur after vigorous straining or injury causing defects or tears in the body wall;

  • Acquired defects may appear in the groin, navel, upper abdominal midline, flank, or at old surgical incision sites.


Hernias are more common in men than in women.  Groin hernias (inguinal hernias) are the most common type of hernias in men and in women. 

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of hernias are variable.  Most hernias cause no pain unless the blood supply to the herniated tissue or organ is compromised. Hernias without symptoms often require an expert to detect them.

Most commonly a painful mass or bulge is detected in the groin or area of the hernia. This often occurs after heavy lifting or straining.

Typical causes of hernias include:

  • Sudden twists, pulls, and strains;

  • Marked weight gain;

  • Chronic constipation, straining during bowel movements, or straining with urination;

  • Enlarged prostate gland;

  • Repetitive brisk coughing. 

Hernia Types

Inguinal Hernia: These hernias are the most common type of hernia and occur in the groin (the area between the abdomen and thigh). 

They can be defined as:

  • Direct inguinal hernia – usually occur in men over the age of 40 whereby the floor of the inguinal canal has become weakened and herniated tissue pushes through this weak spot;

  • Indirect inguinal hernia – occurs through a natural weakness in the internal inguinal ring.


Ventral Hernia: These occur in the front or anterior abdominal wall. Men are more likely than women to develop this type of hernia.

Umbilical Hernia: This hernia is in the navel (belly button), and is either congenital or acquired. 

Spigelian Hernia: This type of inguinal hernia occurs in a triangular defect in the junction of the 3 muscles below the navel and above the groin creases.  It is most commonly found on the right side of the body. 

Incisional Hernia: This hernia occurs within prior surgical incisions which have broken open.  The fat or tissue pushes through the weakness created by the surgical scar and can occur months or years after the initial surgery.

Femoral Hernia: A femoral hernia is a variant of a groin hernia in the high thigh below the groin crease and looks like a bulge, being more common in women than in men. It is often the result of pregnancy and/or childbirth. 

Sports Hernia: This is a newly recognized category of defects usually due to sports, extreme exertion, or sudden forceful injuries. These hernias usually do not have a visible bulge.

Flank Hernia: Occurs either after injury to the side of the abdominal wall or following an operation for patients with kidney problems. 

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