A hernia happens when part of an internal organ or tissue pushes through a weak spot in the surrounding muscle. Hernias are a very common abdominal problem. They can affect men, women and children. There are several types of hernias, and they can have different symptoms for men and women. A hernia will not go away on its own and can require surgery to avoid complications. Washington University hernia surgeons in St. Louis have expertise in minimally invasive surgery for hernias.

WashU Hernia Surgery care team, from left, Jeffrey Blatnik, MD, Sara Holden, MD, and Arnab Majumder, MD.
Types of Hernias

A hernia occurs when part of an organ or tissue bulges through a weak spot in your muscle. Most hernias are in the abdominal wall. The most common types of hernia are:

  • Inguinal Hernia: These occur when the intestines push through a tear in the abdominal wall. The hernia is typically a small bulge in the groin. Inguinal hernias are the most common kind of hernia.
  • Femoral Hernia: These are more common in women. They happen when part of the intestine pushes through the femoral canal.
  • Umbilical Hernia: These are most common in newborns, though they can also happen to adults. An umbilical hernia occurs when fat or part of the intestine squeezes through the muscle near the belly button.
  • Incisional Hernia: These are caused by weakness in the abdomen after surgery. If a person has surgery that requires an incision through the muscles of the stomach or abdomen, a hernia may protrude through the scars from that operation. These can happen months or even years after the surgery.
  • Hiatal Hernia: These are most common in pregnant women and people over age 50. A hiatal hernia happens when part of the stomach pushes up into the diaphragm.
What Causes a Hernia?

A hernia is caused by weakening or straining muscles. Certain factors can cause muscles to become strained or weakened. These include age, chronic coughing, congenital defects, injury and previous surgeries.

Common hernia causes:

  • Obesity
  • Family history
  • Pregnancy
  • Constipation
  • Chronic coughing
  • Injury

Hernia Symptoms

Hernia symptoms can vary depending on the type of hernia, and the symptoms can be different for men and women. For most types of hernias, you can see or feel a bulge where the hernia happened. Common hernia symptoms include:

  • A lump or bulge in the affected area.
  • Pain in the area. This might be worse when coughing, lifting something heavy or bending over.
  • Pressure or heavy feeling in the abdomen.
  • Burning or aching feeling near the lump.
  • Men with inguinal hernias might have pain and swelling near the testicles.
  • Women might feel pelvic pain or acute pain in the affected area.
Testing and Diagnosis

Usually, the doctor can see or feel a bulge in the area where the hernia occurred during a physical exam.

During a physical exam for inguinal hernias in men, the doctor usually feels the area around the testicles and groin while the patient is asked to cough.

Sometimes other tests like different types of imaging might be needed to diagnose the hernia.

Treatment

A hernia will not go away on its own. Surgery is usually recommended for treating most hernias. If your doctor recommends surgery, your surgeon will help decide on the best type of surgery for your condition. Washington University hernia surgeons are experts in treating all types of hernias, and they specialize in open, laparoscopic and robotic hernia repair.

  • Open Surgery: A cut is made in the abdomen at the spot where the hernia is located. The tissue is put back in place and the weakened muscle is stitched back together.
  • Laparoscopic Surgery: Smaller incisions, each less than an inch, are made in the abdomen. Small surgical tools are placed through these incisions and used to repair the hernia. Minimally invasive hernia repair surgery usually has a shorter recovery time and less pain than open surgery.
  • Robotic Surgery: Just like laparoscopic surgery, robotic surgery uses small incisions to repair the hernia. With robotic surgery, the surgeon sits at a console in the operating room and controls the surgical tools from the console. Our hernia surgeons use the most advanced technology available for minimally invasive hernia repair.

Washington University hernia surgeons are nationally recognized experts in all types of hernia repair surgery. Each type of surgery has advantages and disadvantages. After examining your hernia and talking to you about your options, your surgeons will determine which type of procedure would be best for your condition.

Minimally invasive hernia surgery uses smaller incisions than traditional open surgery. Patients who are treated with these techniques usually have a shorter hospital stay and a much faster recovery than with traditional open surgery.

After hernia surgery, patients can usually go home the same day, or after an overnight stay.

Treatment Team

Washington University hernia surgeons are nationally recognized experts in all types of hernia repair surgery. Meet the team below.

Jeffrey A. Blatnik, MD

Associate Professor of Surgery
Section of Minimally Invasive Surgery
Division of General Surgery

Sara Holden, MD

Assistant Professor of Surgery

Section of Minimally Invasive Surgery
Division of General Surgery

Arnab Majumder, MD

Assistant Professor of Surgery

Section of Minimally Invasive Surgery
Division of General Surgery

News

The Hernia Surgery team at Washington University sets a new standard of excellence. Read stories about the program below.