As many as 5 million Americans suffer from hernias every year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. We tend to think of hernias as being the result of lifting very heavy objects, but in fact, they can have a number of causes. If you are someone who has suffered from a hernia, knowing more about the causes can you help you prevent a hernia from recurring.

Hernias can occur in both men and women of all ages, as well as in children. A hernia occurs when part of an organ (usually the intestines) sticks through a weak point or tear in the thin muscular wall that holds the abdominal organs in place. The most common place for hernias to occur is the abdomen.

How Do You Know if You Have a Hernia?

Generally, you'll notice a small lump somewhere in the groin or abdominal area. This lump will often, but not always, be accompanied by a dull ache that increases in intensity with physical exertion. In the early stages, many hernias are reducible. In other words, you can push the tissue gently back into its normal place. Over time, the degree of pain may increase. If you notice a bulge that does not resolve, or you develop pain at the site, you should seek medical treatment.

Are Hernias Dangerous?

The actual bulge or rupture in the abdominal wall itself is not dangerous. If left unattended, however, the resulting protrusion through this hole or gap can cause increasing amounts of pain, as more of the abdominal tissue pushes through the gap. As long as the hernia is reducible, it is not dangerous. However, a non-reducible hernia can become life threatening if a part of the bulging tissue becomes trapped in the tear or opening.

Preventing a Hernia from Recurring

Avoid becoming overweight. Being overweight can increase your risk of developing a hernia considerably. It creates greater abdominal pressure and increases your risk for developing an inguinal hernia. Maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise--and ask your doctor for advice on this if you need it.

Avoid rapid weight loss and crash dieting. Rapid weight-loss programs may be lacking in protein and vitamins that are needed for muscle strength, causing weakness in the muscles of the abdomen.

Eat a healthy diet. Constipation can greatly increase the risk of hernia. A diet high in fiber will help your bowel movements. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains--and make sure to drink plenty of fluids.

Avoid lifting heavy objects. If you can't avoid this, use good body mechanics when lifting heavy objects. Lift with your legs, not with your back--and do not bend at the waist as this will cause excessive pressure. Make sure your bodyweight is centered over your feet when you start your lift.

Stop smoking. Chronic coughing from smoking increases the risk of developing a hernia. Anything you can do to reduce or eliminate your cough will help enormously.

Avoid constipation and straining during bowel movements and urination. Straining causes increased pressure inside the abdomen giving you a greater risk of a hernia recurring.

Important Note: If you suspect that you or your child may have a hernia, contact your health care provider right away.


Hernia Information Page.

Hernia Information Page.

Jeyarajah R, Harford WV (2006). Inguinal and femoral hernias (groin hernias) section of Abdominal hernias and gastric volvulus. In M Feldman et al., eds., Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease, 8th ed., vol. 1, pp. 483-487. Philadelphia: Saunders/Elsevier.

Nordqvist, C. What is a Hernia? What are the Symptoms of a Hernia? Medical News Today. March 16, 2009.