What is an Abdominal Hernia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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An abdominal hernia is a hernia which occurs in the area of the abdomen, the part of the torso which stretches between the pelvis and thorax. Hernias are medical conditions which arise when organs protrude through areas of the body which are designed to protect them. In the case of an abdominal hernia, the hernia usually involves the intestines, which push through a weakened area of the abdominal wall. Abdominal hernias can have some very serious complications, and they require prompt and efficient treatment in most cases.

A number of things can cause a hernia. Weakening of the abdominal wall can be caused by strain, a medical condition, or a prior surgery. Once a weak point emerges, it can quickly turn into a hole, allowing the intestines to slip through. Classically, the intestines are covered in the peritoneum, a thick layer of material which normally lines the abdominal cavity. An abdominal hernia can also involve fatty tissue.


Often, the hernia causes pain and a palpable lump in the herniated area. If enough of the intestines protrude, the hernia can become strangulated, which means that the supply of blood to the herniated tissue is cut off. Strangulation can cause infection, gangrene, and a bowel obstruction, which can in turn result in a variety of symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and constipation. A hernia does not necessarily have to be large for strangulation to occur, which means that the early signs of the hernia can sometimes be missed.

The treatment for an abdominal hernia is surgery. In hernia surgery, the herniated material is examined to confirm that it has not become damaged before being pushed back into the abdominal cavity. The site of the hernia is then closed, with some doctors utilizing meshed netting for especially large herniations to prevent the recurrence of the hernia during the healing stages. An abdominal hernia can recur in the future, because the herniation and subsequent surgery weaken the abdomen, creating a situation which is ideal for herniation in the future.

It can be difficult to prevent a hernia. Maintaining generally good health and avoiding excessive strain to the abdomen can reduce the risk, but people cannot control all of the potential causes of weakness in the abdominal wall. It is important to go to the doctor for a suspected abdominal hernia as quickly as possible, especially if an obvious lump can be seen or felt or if symptoms of infection and digestive distress have set in. A doctor can examine the site, determine the nature of the hernia, and make treatment recommendations.


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