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A Hernia Is Not Just A Man’s Problem! Things Women Should Know About Hernias

Posted: December 1, 2016
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A hernia is a common condition, and can occur in anyone, not just in a man! Here is what women need to know about hernias.

When you hear of a hernia, what comes to your mind? A man’s problem? A problem caused by heavy lifting? It is true, but; just partly true! If you thought that hernia is an issue only men face, hang on! Hernias do not happen ‘only in men’ nor does heavy lifting alone bring on one. Once found, they will not heal by themselves and they can be ‘found’ in anyone. Yes, hernias can happen in anyone, as I found out.

A couple of years ago, I first started to experience hernia symptoms. After living with discomfort for months and then having gone through a surgery; here is what I learnt about this condition. You should find this useful to know too, especially if you are a woman and wondering what exactly, a hernia is.

What is a hernia? 

A hernia occurs when part of an internal organ of the body pushes out through a tear in the abdominal wall. It moves in and out from the position where it belongs, to an area it is not supposed to belong and shows up as a bulge underneath the skin. For e.g., a loop of the small intestine can squeeze through an opening in the abdominal wall into the groin area. Hernias can happen anywhere between the chest and hips.

Hernias can happen in anyone

Hernias do not occur only in men. It is the majority of hernias that happen in men. They can happen in men, infants, children and women.

A hernia can have several causes

Heavy lifting by itself does not cause a hernia.  A hernia develops due to a combination of  a muscle weakness in the abdominal wall and a persistent pressure over this weakness, over a period of time. Lifting is just one of the many causes of  strain on a weakness,which can lead to a hernia.

The causes of muscle weakness

A congenital defect –  the abdominal wall fails to close properly during foetal development.

Age – muscles can weaken over time

Poor nutrition

Constipation – straining during bowel movements stretches the muscles and can weaken them.

Straining during urination (due to an enlarged prostate)

Constant coughing or sneezing – can strain and weaken the abdominal muscles.

An abdominal injury – can damage the  muscles

Any abdominal surgery – can weaken the muscle

Smoking

Causes of increased intra abdominal pressure

Long term/chronic constipation – puts even more pressure on the weak tissues/muscles

Heavy coughing bouts or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – further increases intra abdominal pressure.

Improper lifting of heavy weights

Incorrect posture

Being overweight/ obese

Pregnancy

Ascites – a fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity

Peritoneal dialysis

Hernias in women may go unnoticed

Sometimes, some hernias (femoral) in women can be too small to be seen or felt. They may also not show up on an ultrasound or other diagnostic test. This can delay its diagnosis and treatment.

Pelvic pain can be confused for other conditions

Hernias can cause chronic pelvic pain in women. As a hernia is not always suspected in women, pain as the only symptom, may be mistaken for gynaecological conditions like pelvic inflammatory disease ,endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids.

Hernias can happen during a pregnancy

Women are more susceptible to develop hernias during a pregnancy because a pregnancy not just stretches and weakens the muscles but puts persistent pressure on the abdomen; because of the weight of the growing baby in the uterus.

The common hernias during a pregnancy are Inguinal and Umbilical hernias

Inguinal hernias

These happen when part of the small intestine squeezes through a weak spot into the groin. These are the most common groin hernias in both men and women (more so in men). Inguinal hernias have several causes. In women, pregnancy is one of the main causes of an inguinal hernia.

The symptoms

  • A bulge on one or either sides of the groin, which disappears when you lie down.
  • A feeling of pressure/ heaviness/ fullness/dragging discomfort/ burning sensation in the groin – especially while standing or walking.
  • Dull ache, varying degrees of pain, discomfort in the groin area. Pain can even radiate to the hip, back or the leg.
  • Gurgling in the lower abdomen/groin area.

Umbilical hernias

These hernias happen when part of the bowel or fatty tissue pushes through a weak spot near the navel. These hernias are congenital and common in infants and children. They can happen in adults too, most likely, also due to a congenital defect. These hernias can develop in women, during a pregnancy, especially when overweight or having a multiple gestation pregnancy – carrying twins or triplets.

Symptoms

  • A bulge around the umbilical area
  • Discomfort

Hernias can happen after a C section or any other abdominal surgery

Incisional hernias: These occur when the intestine pushes through a previously made and incompletely healed incision in an abdominal surgery. These can happen months or years after an abdominal surgery. E.g.-   C section or appendectomy.

The causes of incisional hernia:

A decreased wound healing and a weakness of  surgical wound can be caused by

  • Hematoma.
  • Seroma(fluid that develops in the body after surgery)
  • Infection
  • Poor surgical technique.
  • Being inactive after an abdominal surgery

Symptoms

A bulge or a protrusion at or near the area of a surgical incision.

Femoral hernias in women can be dangerous

Femoral hernias although rare, develop almost exclusively in women – in the upper thigh/outer groin.They can be  dangerous because

  • The bulge of a femoral hernia may be small and may not be seen or felt.
  • There are often no symptoms until they strangulate – when the bowel becomes stuck in femoral canal with its blood supply cut off.

Strangulation symptoms

  • Severe stomach or groin pain
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • This can be a life threatening situation. It requires a surgery within hours- to release the trapped tissue and to restore its blood supply.

Surgery the only treatment for adult hernias

A congenital umbilical hernia in babies, is the lone exception which can heal itself in a few years. Inguinal hernias in infants/children, do require a surgery. In pregnant women, surgery can only be delayed until the baby is born and there is full recovery. Otherwise, a surgery, is the only treatment for all adult hernias.

Here are a few precautions you can take to prevent a hernia                         

The DO’S

 Have a high fibre diet to avoid constipation. Add low fat proteins to your diet – beans, soy, nuts, seeds, low fat dairy, eggs and lean meat-chicken or fish. These are essential for the repair of damaged tissues.

Strengthen your abdominal muscles. Activities like swimming and aqua aerobics, strengthen the body and support it, without straining the joints or muscles.

Treat any chronic cough or cold.

Avoid lifting, pushing or pulling heavy weights. If you have to, learn how to lift them correctly.

Maintain a healthy body weight.

Quit smoking-  as it decreases blood flow and slows the healing of tissues.

The DONT’S

Do not ignore– If you think you may have a hernia do not ignore it in the hope that ‘it will go away’. It won’t. It will only get bigger, more uncomfortable, more painful.

Do not assume– Just because you have the symptoms, it does not mean you have a hernia. All groin bulges may not be hernias. They can be something else, like an enlarged lymph node. Similarly pelvic pain may be totally unrelated to a hernia. It is best to leave it to your doctor to evaluate.

Do not self  diagnose or self treat– Whether it is a hernia or some other medical condition, do not get into the habit to ‘google’ your symptoms and use information you read, either for self diagnosis or treatment. Unless you are a doctor, do not attempt any self treatment-like trying to push the hernia bulge back yourself .

Do not delay– If a surgery has been recommended by your doctor, it is best to have it fixed as soon as possible. Any untreated hernia (big or small) can cause complications; at times, without any warning! Delaying also might mean a bigger surgery, more recovery time.

There is no sure way of preventing a hernia or its recurrence. But, you can certainly lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid all of these risk factors.

Lastly and importantly- ALWAYS remember to put any of your health concerns in the hands of a medical professional!

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