Commonly called a “rupture,” a hernia is a weakness or tear in the wall of your belly, known as your abdomen. Men and women of all ages can have hernias. Children can have them, too.

1. What causes a hernia?

Picture an old tire. Its outer wall is like the layers of tissue surrounding your abdomen (the abdomen wall). The tire’s inner tube is like the thin inner lining of your abdomen (the peritoneum). Like a tire holds air, your abdomen holds the intestines and other vital organs. If the wall gets weak, a hernia may form. A hernia can also develop near the area of a surgery you had before.

2. How do you know if you have a hernia?

It’s usually easy to recognize a hernia. You may notice a bulge under your skin, or you may feel pain when you lift heavy objects, cough, or sneeze. The pain may be sharp and immediate. In some cases, the pain may get worse, or the bulge may become larger toward the end of the day or after standing for long periods of time.

3. Where do hernias occur?

A hernia may occur at the site of a previous surgical incision anywhere on the abdomen. Other areas where hernias can occur are around the “belly button” or in the groin area.

4. How are hernias treated?

If you think you have a hernia, see your doctor right away. If you have a hernia, your doctor is likely to recommend surgery. Surgery repairs the hernia and helps to prevent future complications such as strangulation and gangrene of the intestines. Within a short period after surgery, full recovery will occur. Then you can return to your normal activities, free of the pain and worry your hernia caused you.

5. When should you call for help?

Call your health care provider now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe belly pain.
  • You have nausea or vomiting.
  • You have belly pain and are not passing gas or stool.
  • You cannot push the hernia back into place with gentle pressure when you are lying down.
  • The skin over the hernia turns red or becomes tender.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or increased pain.
  • You do not get better as expected.

For more information on caring for a hernia, click here to visit our free online health library.