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Common hernia questions

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What does a hernia feel like?

If you have a hernia, you may notice a swelling or lump in your tummy or groin. You may find that the lump:

  • disappears when you lie down
  • can be pushed back in
  • appears when you cough or strain

Some hernias can cause aching and discomfort, particularly after doing physical activity.

However, in many cases, a hernia causes few or no noticeable symptoms.

What does a hernia look like?

A hernia usually looks like a swelling or lump in your tummy or groin. The lump may:

  • disappear when you lie down
  • be pushed back in
  • appear when you cough or strain

How do you diagnose a hernia?

A hernia is unlikely to disappear on its own, so see a doctor if you think you have a hernia.

Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose a hernia by examining the affected area. You may also need an ultrasound scan to confirm the diagnosis.

Do hernias hurt?

Many hernias do not cause pain. However, some hernias can cause aching and discomfort, especially after physical activity.

If your hernia suddenly becomes painful or any existing pain gets worse, see your doctor or go to hospital immediately. A sudden increase in pain may indicate that the blood supply to the organ or tissue trapped in the hernia has been cut off (strangulation) or a piece of bowel has entered the hernia and become blocked (obstruction).

Can you die from a hernia?

A hernia can lead to a life-threatening situation if it becomes strangulated (blood supply to tissue trapped in the hernia is cut off) or if a piece of bowel enters the hernia and becomes blocked (bowel obstruction).

Both of these scenarios can cause complications, such as a hole in the bowel or blood poisoning, which can carry a risk of death.

If you have a strangulated or obstructed bowel, you may develop:

  • sudden, severe pain
  • vomiting
  • difficulty opening your bowels or passing wind
  • a firm or tender hernia that cannot be pushed back in

See your doctor or go to hospital immediately if you develop any of these symptoms.

How do you prevent hernia?

Hernias can occur in adults who have lifestyle or health factors that raise the pressure in their tummy. This increased pressure can lead to a weakness in the abdominal wall, resulting in a hernia. Increased tummy pressure can be caused by:

  • straining on the toilet e.g from constipation
  • chronic persistent cough
  • being overweight
  • pregnancy
  • lifting, carrying or pushing heavy loads

You may be able to reduce your risk of a hernia by minimising these activities, where possible, by:

  • losing weight if you are overweight or obese
  • seeking treatment for an ongoing cough
  • making diet and lifestyle changes to prevent constipation

How do you treat a hernia?

Surgery is the usual treatment for a hernia. If you have a hernia, speak to your doctor to find out if you need treatment.

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