An abdominal hernia occurs when an abdominal organ, usually the small intestine, protrudes through the abdominal wall. As the organ in the abdomen protrudes through the weakened area in the abdominal wall, it causes a bulge in the area as well as pain, fever, blood in the stool and other symptoms. If left untreated, the protruding tissue may lose blood supply and become obstructed, resulting in health problems as serious as life-threatening gangrene.
Causes of an Abdominal Hernia
An abdominal hernia may develop because of a congenital weakness in the abdominal wall that was present at birth. Hernias may be more likely to form because of the following:
- Family history of hernias
- Chronic cough due to smoking or cystic fibrosis
- Straining to urinate
- Enlarged prostate
- Undescended testicles
- Ascites, the buildup of abdominal fluid
- Certain medical conditions, like Marfan syndrome
- Weakened abdominal muscles due to poor nutrition or heavy lifting
Symptoms of an Abdominal Hernia
Depending on the location of the hernia, symptoms will vary. Abdominal hernias may be tender or painful to the touch and the patient may experience increased pain when lifting, coughing, or straining at urination or bowel movements. An abdominal hernia may seem to disappear at times when the protruding tissue is pushed back inside the abdominal wall. Once the weakness in the abdominal wall exists, however, the bulge of the hernia will inevitably reappear.
Diagnosis of an Abdominal Hernia
An abdominal hernia is frequently diagnosed through a physical examination, but tests to confirm diagnosis are often conducted, particularly when the patient is obese and physical examination is inconclusive. Such diagnostic tests may include an abdominal X-ray or ultrasound.
Treatment of an Abdominal Hernia
Treatment for an abdominal hernia requires surgery to move the protruding tissue back to its original location and strengthen the weakened abdominal area with stitching or synthetic mesh. This procedure can be performed as either traditional open surgery or with the laparoscopic technique. Laparoscopic hernia repair offers patients smaller incisions and a shorter recovery time. Patients also benefit from less scarring and less bleeding as well.
The goal of the abdominal hernia repair procedure is to repair and strengthen tissue in the abdominal wall so that the intestines or other organs are unable to push through the wall causing another hernia. Recovery from abdominal hernia repair may vary depending on the size of the hernia that is treated, so it is important for patients to seek treatment as soon as possible. A certain amount of tenderness, swelling and bleeding are to be expected after an abdominal hernia repair. Patients should notify their doctor if they experience fever, excessive bleeding or severe pain.