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(Gut) busting myths about hernias

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What’s a hernia? What causes them?

Hernias occur when tissue protrudes through a weak spot or gap in muscles. They’re associated with strain, like lifting something that’s too heavy. But any pressure from inside — obesity, pregnancy, a tumor, or other diseases — can push soft tissue like part of an intestine or fat out through the gap, according to Mayo Clinic GI surgeon Dr. Juliane Bingener.

Here are some common questions and answers about hernias.

Where can they occur?

Usually, hernias are thought of as a stomach/abdomen injury. However, Bingener said they can occur anywhere there’s a gap between muscles. There are natural gaps at the belly button and groin, but some people are born with others. Some kinds of surgery can also leave gaps, or muscles can degenerate, she added.


Do hernias only happen to men?

Nope! Groin hernias are common in men, but incisional hernias, the type that are caused by surgical trauma, often happen to women, Bingener said. Women are more likely to have undergone C-sections or hysterectomies, which can cause those abdominal muscle gaps and weaknesses.

Do they eventually heal themselves, like a muscle pull?

"Never," Bingener said. "Some people will say they had a hernia and now it’s gone, but that’s a misdiagnosis." However, many hernias are benign — if they’re asymptomatic, your physician may just monitor them. They can lead to life-threatening complications, though, so surgery — laproscopic or otherwise — may be used to repair a painful or growing hernia.

Are hernias painful?

Not always. Most hernias reveal themselves as visible bulges, but they could be hidden by skin or other tissue. Some obese patients don’t know they have one until another medical examination reveals it, Bingener said.

Can you die from a hernia?

Many hernias are not serious, but do get them checked out. "Most hernias contain fat," she said. "But if you have a piece of bowel caught in it, that’s painful." It’s also the least common type of hernia Bingener sees. If a hernia is painful, it likely requires attention, she said. If it’s unremittingly painful, it may require immediate help. But if a hernia seems benign, it may be fine. There’s one exception: Older women who develop groin hernias should contact a physician immediately to avoid serious complications.


Not just men — women can have hernias, too.

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