What is a hernia?

In very simple terms a hernia is where internal parts or organs protrude through a muscle wall in the body, either in the abdomen or in the chest. This can happen internally in the body or to the outside of the body. The Latin word hernia means 'rupture' and a hernia appears where there is a weakness in the muscle wall or a rupture.

What causes a hernia?

This depends very much on where the hernia is in the body. In some cases, hernias are caused by genetic predisposition due to an inherited weakness in an area of the muscle wall, and in other cases they can be caused by other factors such as age, putting on weight or by an injury. Differences in physiological makeup between men and women mean that some hernia types tend to affect one gender more than the other.

What are the common types of hernia?

The five most common types of hernia are:

Inguinal Hernia

Inguinal hernias are caused by a congenital (that is, inherited) weakening in the stomach muscles. People who have this inherited weakness tend to develop this type of hernia later in life, from middle age. They are slightly commoner in men than in women and are the most common type of hernia.

Hiatus Hernia

Also referred to by the term 'diaphragmatic' as these affect the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that controls the lungs and allows us to breathe in and out. It is located beneath the lungs and has a small 'hole' that lets the oesophagus connect to the stomach. When either a section of the oesophagus or the stomach squeezes through this gap, this is a hiatus hernia. Hiatus hernias are the second most common type of hernia after inguinal hernias.

Umbilical Hernia

This a type of hernia that appears near the navel - a weak spot in the abdominal muscle wall.

Femoral Hernia

This type of hernia is more common in women than in men and affects the groin, developing through the muscles between the abdominal floor and the leg.

Incisional Hernia

This type of hernia develops when scars after surgery do not heal properly.

How is a hernia treated?

In some cases, a doctor can gently push a protrusion back through the muscle wall. This type of hernia is described as 'reducible'. In most cases however hernia repair surgery is required, especially where the hernia is 'strangulated', which can lead to infection.