A hernia is an unpleasant and unfortunately common abdominal injury that can cause severe pain and discomfort. There are many factors that can cause or contribute to a hernia, but the most common cause is an injury, particularly one caused by lifting, pushing, or straining.
You may have heard that surgery is the only option to treat a hernia. It's true that most hernias do need surgical repair, such as laparoscopic surgery, to be completely healed, but you can use some at-home treatments to manage the pain of a hernia in the meantime. In fact, all of these treatments can and should be used alongside any medical treatment you receive.
So, what is a hernia, and what are its symptoms? How can you treat a hernia?
Let's find out.
What Is A Hernia?
Your abdominal wall is made up of muscle and strong tissues. These muscles help you to move, and they also keep your internal abdominal organs safe from damage. However, an injury - or, more rarely, digestive and kidney diseases - can cause a gap between these muscles, allowing the internal organs to poke out.
There are several different types of hernias. Treatment for each type can differ, depending on how severe the hernia is, or any other contributing factors.
The different types of hernia are as follows:
A ventral hernia, or abdominal hernia, is any kind of intestinal or abdominal tissue through the abdominal wall. Other types of hernias, like incisional and umbilical hernias, are specific types of ventral hernias.
A ventral hernia can be caused by a natural weakness in the abdominal walls, heavy lifting, pregnancy, obesity, and more. Prolonged and chronic coughing or vomiting can also cause a ventral hernia.
An incisional hernia occurs due to abdominal surgery trauma. This type of hernia can occur near or around the site of an abdominal surgical incision, and most often appears between three to six months after surgery. Gaining a lot of weight soon after surgery, getting pregnant soon after surgery, or engaging in too much physical activity (or too soon) can all increase your chances of an incisional hernia.
An umbilical hernia is almost always seen in babies. After a baby is born, the abdominal muscles begin to close, cutting off the umbilical passage. It usually takes up to five years for the gap to close completely. In the meantime, a loop of the intestine may begin to push through the open gap of the umbilical passage, causing an umbilical hernia. It's possible for umbilical hernias to appear in adults, too.
Umbilical hernias can be caused by chronic health conditions, straining, excessive coughing and vomiting, and obesity.
An inguinal hernia occurs in the groin or abdominal cavity. While all hernias have the potential to become serious, inguinal hernias are more dangerous as parts of the intestine can get trapped in the abdominal cavity or inguinal canal and lose blood flow. This can lead to parts of the intestine dying altogether. This is called a strangulated hernia. Also, inguinal hernias tend to grow, intensifying the problem.
Risk factors for an inguinal hernia include being a male, being older, and having a family history of inguinal hernias. You'll likely need laparoscopic surgery to correct an inguinal hernia, or a medical consultation at the very least.
So, how can you tell if you have a hernia? There are several main symptoms to look out for, including:
- A lump on your abdomen, chest cavity, or groin. This lump might go away when you lie down or become more prominent when you strain or cough. It will be soft, and you may be able to push it back in.
- Mild pain and discomfort. These sensations might be more pronounced when you're coughing or straining. Bowel movement might be painful. However, pain isn't always a symptom of a hernia.
- A feeling of abdominal pressure or pain in the area. You might also notice an ache or a burning sensation.
- The discomfort and size of the lump increase with activity. You might also notice a sharp pain when you engage in strenuous activities.
If you think you have a hernia, you'll need to arrange a doctor's visit. This can help you to confirm that you do have a hernia, and the type of hernia you have. A doctor can help you work out any necessary treatments, for example, surgical repair.
Hernia Home Treatments
Whether you've decided to have surgery for your hernia or not, you should take steps to keep yourself safe and supported at home. These treatments are perfect for dealing with a hernia up to and after hernia repair surgery, especially if you're at risk for an incisional hernia.
Be sure to stay aware of your body and your hernia. If you suspect the pain is getting worse, visit a doctor. If something isn't working (for example, if even mild, light walking is making your hernia worse), stop and seek medical assistance. If you have food allergies, take extra care not to irritate your digestive system further.
Here are a few home treatments that can help you manage the pain and discomfort of a hernia.
1. Support the Hernia
Abdominal hernias have the potential to push through more and more, causing a more noticeable lump, more pain, and possibly irreversible damage. To keep it in place, try wearing a hernia belt. A hernia belt is designed to support your abdomen, preventing the hernia from popping out of place.
Another good way to support your hernia is to physically support it when you're coughing, sneezing, or straining. This puts extra pressure on your hernia. To avoid it popping out further, place a hand over your hernia when you're straining.
Be aware that it's possible to have more than one hernia at once. If you don't provide proper support for your abdomen, your already weakened abdominal muscles could allow a second hernia to pop through. This can seriously complicate matters and cause more discomfort and inconvenience.
2. Get the Right Amount of Exercise
Heavy or excessive exercise is just as bad for a hernia as heavy lifting and straining. Avoid weightlifting, running, or any kind of serious exercise that could put a strain on your abdomen. However, light exercise can strengthen the abdominal muscles. Light walking every day, at a brisk pace, is a good exercise that won't put too much pressure on your hernia.
There are specialized abdominal exercises for hernias, or to prevent hernias for at-risk individuals. Be sure to go slowly and carefully - don't push yourself too hard.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
The food you eat will have a direct impact on your hernia. It will also help you to manage your weight, and being overweight can make hernias worse. Avoid large, heavy meals, and focus on the quality of food rather than quantity. Eating little but often is the best bet when it comes to hernias.
This means that you might have to rethink your schedule. Eating a large breakfast, lunch, and dinner may no longer be the best choice for you. Instead, you might consider planning smaller, more regular meals. Make sure you get your daily calories and avoid processed foods as much as possible.
Focus on fiber-rich foods, fresh vegetables, lean proteins, and ginger tea. Drink plenty of water or fresh fruit juices.
4. Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Inflammatory foods include processed foods, gluten, and foods high in sugar and fat. These foods can irritate your intestines and stomach, which can be a serious problem if you're suffering from a hernia. Especially if part of your intestines is poking out in a hernia, you need to be very careful of what you eat. It's also good to avoid caffeine, spicy foods, or anything that has irritated your stomach in the past.
You might experience heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, constipation, and stomach pain if you eat foods that irritate your digestive system. Remember, when you have a hernia, your digestive system is much more sensitive and delicate. Meal planning can help you to eat good food and avoid processed foods.
5. Manage Your Weight
Obesity in itself can cause hernias, and gaining weight can make a hernia worse. This is because excess weight puts strain on the abdomen. Eating well, avoiding inflammatory foods, and taking light exercise is a good way to keep your weight to a manageable level.
If you're struggling with losing weight, you may want to visit a doctor or nutritionist. While excess weight isn't good for a hernia, obesity can be a serious complication. You may be at risk for multiple hernias, and more serious hernias (for example, a strangulated hernia). A nutritionist can help you to plan out meals and arrange suitable exercise that won't make your hernia worse.
When To See A Doctor
Hernias are reasonably common, and they're usually not life-threatening. While a hernia may ultimately need hernia repair surgery to prevent damage to the intestines and abdominal wall, this usually isn't an absolute emergency.
However, in certain cases, hernias can become very serious. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Worsening pain, whether the pain builds up gradually or suddenly.
- Nausea or vomiting, especially if it makes the pain worse.
- Inability or extreme difficulty in passing a bowel movement, especially coupled with bloating.
- A painful hernia bulge that doesn't budge when you lie down, or can't be pushed back in.
- A fever, especially coupled with a racing heart rate.
It's very important to get medical attention as quickly as possible if you notice any of these symptoms. The longer you wait, the more damage could be done to your abdominal organs.
The Bottom Line
Hernias are unpleasant and uncomfortable, but generally not painful or life-threatening. However, it's important to note that hernias don't go away by themselves. Ultimately, you may need medical attention and even hernia repair surgery.
Still, it's possible to live a comfortable life with a hernia - just be careful not to do any lifting.