09 April 2010

Don’t catch a hernia

We've all heard of hernias, but what exactly do they involve and how can you avoid them.

“You’re gonna give me a hernia, boy!”

I can still hear my grandfather’s mock admonition during many of our frequent roughhousing sessions when I was a kid. He enjoyed tossing me through the air at least as much as I enjoyed pretending to be an airplane, but I never did understand what he meant by this funny thing called a “hernia”. Was it something you could catch like the common cold?

Much more recently I found out that my grandfather did, in fact, have several hernias throughout his latter years, but I still had no clue about what was involved. Enough reason to find out more about this peculiarly named condition.

A hernia is…

A hernia occurs when a part of an internal organ or body part protrudes through the wall of the cavity it is supposed to inhabit into another area where, frankly, it has no business being. Sounds kind of odd and a little freaky, but it turns out that there are many places in your body where that sort of thing can happen and consequently there are many different kinds of hernias.

The majority of hernias develop in the abdominal region, when a weakness in the abdominal wall evolves into a hole through which an internal organ can poke, but they do occur in other parts of the body as well. In the case of a Hiatus hernia, for instance, a bit of the stomach protrudes upwards through the esophageal opening of the diaphragm. An umbilical hernia, on the other hand, presents as a bulge around the belly button, is common in infants and is the result of a weakness in the abdominal wall at the site of the umbilical cord.

Watch this short informative video to answer some of your hernia-related questions:

Hernia Health Video -- powered by


Men and hernias

Most hernias develop when the pressure in the compartment containing an organ is increased and the wall of that compartment is weakened. The weakening tends to increase with age (which is why hernias tend to be more common among older folks) and it can be congenital (which is why hernias often run in families), but there are also several activities which can increase the internal pressure and lead to hernias:

• heavy lifting and improper lifting technique;

• chronic coughing;

• difficulty urinating as a result of an enlarged prostate;

• chronic constipation;

• undescended testicles.

So hernias don’t just happen to professional piano movers and big blokes who lift heavy weights in the gym. You can develop a hernia during ordinary exercise, a particularly strenuous visit to the toilet or even during sex!

All types of hernias occur in men, but there are some kinds to which we are particularly prone. These include:

Inguinal hernias, in which part of the intestine protrudes down the inguinal canal and creates a bulge in the groin. These are five times more common in men than in women.

Epigastric or ventral hernias, which involve a protrusion of intestine or fat through the abdominal wall between the breastbone and navel. They afflict mostly men between 20 and 50.

Incisional hernias, in which a piece of intestine bulges out through a weakness in the abdominal wall near a wound from a previous surgery.


Many men describe the sensation involved in having a hernia as feeling like something inside has given way or “popped”. Hernias may or may not involve considerable physical pain and discomfort as well as a visible or palpable lump. Sometimes hernia sufferers feel a pulling sensation or more specific pressure on an internal organ, but quite frequently there are no major noticeable symptoms at all.


Not all hernias need to be repaired, especially if they are small and don’t cause any physical pain or discomfort, but in many cases they should be treated quickly to avoid any complications. Surgery is the only way to permanently fix a hernia and usually involves pushing back the herniated tissue or organ and mending the weakness or hole in the containing wall, sometimes using synthetic material for reinforcement. In many instances the repairs can be done through a laparoscopy involving only small incisions to insert a camera and instruments as opposed to major open surgery.


So you want to avoid ever getting a hernia. Well, you may not have a choice in the matter, since hernias are frequently congenital and passed down from parent to child, but there are a number of things you can do to decrease the chances of it happening to you:

• Use proper lifting techniques.

• Avoid activities that cause abdominal strain.

• Loose weight if you are overweight.

• See a doctor if you find urinating strenuous. You may suffer from an enlarged prostate and a hernia may just be one result.

• Avoid and relieve constipation by eating sufficient amounts of fibre, drinking lots of fluid and exercising regularly, but beware that exercising to improve an existing hernia is likely to aggravate rather than improve the situation


(Andrew Luyt, Health24, April 2010)



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