The symptoms listed below are symptoms that may accompany different hernia types. Each individual may experience different symptoms primarily depending on the type of hernia and the individuals' physical health and wellness. Only your doctor or hernia specialist can properly diagnose your signs and symptoms as to whether or not they are indeed hernia related.
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A bulge or swelling is a hernia. When there is a hole or defect in the abdominal wall muscle the intestinal contents bulge outwards. The intestinal contents are contained within a sac of peritoneum, referred to as the hernia sac. With strenuous activities such as lifting, straining or coughing the bulge tends to enlarge as the intra-abdominal pressure increases. A bulge may or may not be painful, however, you should not ignore an abnormal bulge even if it is not painful.
Pain / Discomfort
Pain is a common complaint for hernia patients. However, not all hernia patients experience pain. Pain often occurs in an acute hernia when the muscle tissue stretches or tears. Not everyone experiences this pain. Some patients describe a muscle ache similar to a strain instead of a pain during the phase when the muscle ruptures, resulting in the hernia. This pain will usually subside in a week or two. DO NOT ignore your hernia because you are no longer experiencing pain because the hernia did not and will not go away, even if the pain has subsided.
The pain from a hernia has been described as a burning, tearing, sharp, dull or pulling pain. Some patients complain that there is no pain, just a funny feeling in the groin that was not there before. Pain occurs when the tissues around the hernia are stretched or torn because these tissues contain nerve endings.
A hernia can cause localized pain when the nerves in the region of the hernia, or torn muscles, produce pain by pinching or stretching the nerves. As a hernia enlarges, the surrounding nerves are stretched, resulting in more intense pain. Another type of pain occurs during exercise and while performing strenuous work. The activity causes an increase in intra-abdominal pressure and the muscles of the abdominal wall contact the hernia sac which causes pain. The hernia sac is a layer of peritoneum which contains sensitive nerve endings which, when pinched by a contracting muscle, cause pain.
A hernia can also cause referred pain when the nerves are irritated and the pain travels along the nerve root to other regions supplied by the same nerve. This is why some patients with a hernia may complain of pain in the testicle or thigh. Sometimes the pain of an irritated nerve may travel to the back and then into the abdomen. This occurs because the nerve roots originate from the back and the nerve to the testicle originates in the abdominal region. In a similar fashion, testicular trauma can cause abdominal pain when the nerve to the testicle is irritated by the hernia.
A hernia causes generalized pain when strangulation or incarceration occurs. The internal abdominal organs, such as the intestines, become pinched resulting in a compromised blood supply. The tissue with the compromised blood supply becomes painful. The pain of a strangulated hernia is an abdominal pain which initially starts as a stomach ache and increases in severity, causing nausea and vomiting later. The tissues, if untreated, will die and the results can be fatal if prompt surgery is not performed.
In any event a physician should determine the cause of pain. The pain can be caused by a hernia, however, other non-hernia causes of pain should be ruled out during the course of physical examination.
You may experience constipation, or possibly blood in your stool, if the hernia is blocking the intestine. This impedes the regular flow of food, and consequently feces, thus blocking their regular travel methods out of your body. Surgical treatment is necessary on an emergency basis when and if this occurs.
Nausea and/or Vomiting
As mentioned above, should the hernia become incarcerated, the regular flow of food in the intestine gets blocked creating "back-up" inside your intestine. This may result in vomiting or nausea. Nausea without vomiting can also occur if your intestine is only partially blocked, possibly resulting in a loss of appetite.
It is possible for the bladder to become trapped within the hernia. In this case urinary burning, frequent infections, bladder stones and hesitancy or frequency in urinating can occur. You should consult your physician or urologist if you are experiencing these symptoms so they can perform an examination to determine if a hernia is present. As a side note, patients with prostate problem tend to develop hernias from constant straining.