Monday, September 25, 2017

Hernia Guide - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Ever wondered how all of your internal organs stay in place? Connective tissues that vary from thin internal skins to a comprehensive network of nerves, blood and lymph vessels help keep organs in placed - they include areolar tissue, reticular tissue, and adipose tissue.

Sometimes, however, organs can bust through those protective tissues which hold them in place and cause real trouble - you know this occurrence by the term “hernia.”

What is a Hernia?
Occasionally, an organ will actually push through an opening in the tissue or muscle holding it in place leading to a painful and potentially dangerous injury called a hernia. Most often occurring in the abdominal region, hernias may also develop around the groin, belly, and upper thigh. If you discover a visible lump that doesn’t reduce in size and feels tender or aches, you should consult your doctor right away in case you do have a hernia. Symptoms of hernias depend on the type of hernia you have. Based on a physical exam, medical history, and discussion of recent strain and symptoms, your primary care doctor should be able to assist you in a customized treatment plan to prevent the hernia from worsening.

What Causes a Hernia?
Hernias may develop almost immediately or over a prolonged period of time. A combination of strain and muscle weakness is often the cause for a hernia. Damaged tissue from an injury or surgery, older age, chronic coughing, or some congenital defects can lead to weakness in connective tissues which can’t reinforce their own walls.

Strain can then result from a variety of activities from lifting heavy loads to sudden weight gain, excessive coughing or sneezing, constipation, buildup of abdominal fluid, and even being pregnant. When the weakened muscle causes an abnormal opening, the contained organ (like the intestines) will exit through the opening resulting in a bulge. Factors which put you at risk for developing a hernia include:

•    Family history of hernias
•    Chronic cough (and things which cause chronic cough like cystic fibrosis, smoking, etc.)
•    Chronic constipation (leads to strain when having a bowel movement)
•    Being obese or simply overweight

What are the Types of Hernias?

4 main types of hernias exist, varying in degree of severity as well as requirement of invasive treatment.

Inguinal hernia: The most common type of hernia, inguinal hernias result from the intestines actually pushing through a weakened or defective area of the inguinal canal (lower abdominal wall). These types of hernias are more common in men and can lead to symptoms including weakness, pressure, or a heavy dragging feeling in the groin as well as burning or aching at the site of a visible bulge, and pain or discomfort in the groin when coughing, lifting, or bending over. Note: A femoral hernia also appears in the groin, and while rare, most often develops in women who are overweight or pregnant.

Hiatal hernia:
Hiatal hernias affect the diaphragm, the respiratory muscle used to help breathe in air. When part of your stomach bulges through the hiatus, the small opening of the diaphragm meant for the esophagus to go through to the stomach, a hiatal hernia occurs in your chest cavity. Symptoms of a hiatal hernia include heartburn, difficulty swallowing, chest pain, abdominal pain, belching, feeling super full after a meal, or even vomiting or excreting blood.

Umbilical hernia: While having the potential to affect adults, these types of hernias are most common in infants under 6 months old whose abdominal walls are still strengthening. A bulge in or near a baby’s belly button might indicate a hernia where an intestinal loop has pushed through the abdominal wall near the belly button. In addition to a visible protrusion, babies may experience pain, tenderness at the site, swelling, discoloration, or they may begin vomiting.

Incisional hernia: Following some type of surgery to the abdomen, you may experience a hernia where the intestines pokes through the incision site where the surgical wound never completely healed. The hernia may occur right at the scar, or in the surrounding, weakened tissues. A visible lump may be accompanied by pain, swelling, fever, and pressure.

How Are Hernias Treated?

Hernia treatment can vary from simple monitoring to surgical intervention. Depending on the severity of your hernia and its effects in the body, your medical care team will strategize a treatment plan that may include:

•    Exercises to strengthen the muscles around a hernia site
•    Dietary modifications to address acid reflux of a hiatal hernia
•    Activity limitations to avoid strain, lifting, and bending
•    Wearing a hernia belt to compress the raised bulge and alleviate pain
•    Medication to reduce stomach acid
•    If necessary, surgery to return the organ to its proper area and close off the tissue opening

Even if a raised bump or bulge doesn’t feel painful or tender, it’s critical to seek a medical evaluation as fast as possible. All hernias have the potential to lead to more complicated or life-threatening conditions like obstructed bowels, intestinal strangulation, and infection.

This is a guest blog post.

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