Hernias are caused by a combination of muscle weakness and strain. A hernia
can develop quickly or over a long period of time, depending on its cause.
Although the majority of hernias are not immediately life threatening,
they do not go away and may eventually require surgical correction to
prevent potentially dangerous complications.
“If left untreated, a hernia can grow and trap or incarcerate the
abdominal wall, causing severe pain, nausea, constipation and bowel obstruction,”
said Albert J. Osbahr III, MD. “Certain occupations, such as those
that require standing for long periods or doing heavy physical labor increase
the risk of developing an inguinal hernia.”
Inguinal hernias are the most common type of hernia and occur most frequently
in men because of the way the male anatomy develops before birth. Common
symptoms of an inguinal hernia include a bulge or lump on either side
of the pubic bone where the groin meets the thigh. Other symptoms can
include pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen, especially when bending
over, coughing or lifting; weakness, pressure or a feeling of heaviness
in the abdomen; or a burning, gurgling, or aching sensation at the site
of the bulge. A physical exam is usually all that’s needed to diagnose
an inguinal hernia. The doctor will typically ask about the signs and
symptoms and check for a bulge in the groin area. Because standing and
coughing can make a hernia more prominent, patients are often asked to
stand up and cough or strain as part of the exam. There are a number of
ways to minimize strain on abdominal muscles and tissues to prevent hernias:
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Emphasize high-fiber foods to prevent constipation and straining
• Carefully lift heavy objects or avoid heavy lifting altogether.
If you must lift something heavy, always bend from the knees — not the waist
• Stop smoking. Besides its role in many serious diseases, smoking
often causes a chronic cough that can lead to or aggravate an inguinal hernia
Avoid relying on a truss. Wearing a supportive garment designed to keep
hernias in place (hernia truss) doesn’t correct the underlying problem
or help prevent complications. Sometimes a doctor may recommend a hernia
truss be used for a short period of time before surgery, but a truss isn’t
a replacement for surgery.
Albert J. Osbahr III, MD, is the current medical director of occupational
health services at Catawba Valley Medical Center Occupational Health.
To schedule an appointment, please call 828/326-3230.