Your abdomen is a vital part of your body that gets a workout every day just keeping you balanced as you go about daily activities. So when you are experiencing symptoms such as bloating, bulges, discomfort/achiness, sharp pain, weight loss, bleeding into the intestinal tract, or excessive gas, it is important to identify the problem and get solutions that help you take control of your health.
At Midtown Surgical & Skin Institute, we care about collaborating with you to find the correct approach for your abdominal concerns. Our compassionate, personalized medical consultations make it easier for you to feel better and enjoy your life, your way.
Signs and Symptoms of Hernias and Abdominal Disorders
The most common signs of a hernia or other abdominal disorders include:
- Lump or bulge in the abdomen or groin
- Bulge that disappears when lying down, then reappears after straining, laughing, crying, coughing or other physical activities
- Bulge that is not able to be pushed back in, causing severe pain
- Pain where the bulge or lump appears
- Pain that occurs while lifting objects or straining
- Bulge that grows bigger over time
- Dull achiness at the bulge site
- Bowel obstruction or constipation
- Feeling full
- Difficulty swallowing
- Frequent regurgitation
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Bleeding into the gastrointestinal tract, rectal bleeding or darker stools
Other symptoms may appear for other abdominal issues, from stomach pain and nausea to constipation and other issues. It’s a good idea to consult a medical professional for personalized advice.
Types of Hernias
Hernias can occur in many areas of your abdomen. The most frequent types are:
- Inguinal hernia — Bulge in the groin area at the top of the thigh. It can extend into the scrotum in males. This is the most common hernia.
- Umbilical hernia — Bulge located near or around the belly button.
- Incisional hernia — Bulge at a previous incision. Results when tissue (intestines, etc.) pushes through a scar in the abdomen or pelvic region.
- Hiatal hernia (aka Diaphragmatic hernia) — The stomach pushes up into the chest region through the diaphragm. This can cause symptoms of reflux or chest pain.
Less common types of hernia include:
- Femoral hernia — Bulge in the lower part of the groin area at the top of the thigh. More common in females than males.
- Epigastric hernia — Bulge in the upper abdomen above the belly button.
- Spigelian hernia — Below the belly button, and either on the left or right of the abdomen.
- Lumbar hernia — A bulge in the lower back between your spine and side of abdomen, just below the ribs. Often can be mistaken for a lipoma.
Other Common Abdominal Disorders
Non-hernia abdominal disorders can include many other conditions, all of which should be assessed by a doctor. A few to watch out for include:
- Appendicitis — A blockage of the appendix that results in symptoms such as increasing abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and fever. If you think you may have appendicitis, see a doctor immediately.
- Ulcer — This is a sore that occurs in the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine, resulting in pain and bleeding. Complications include life-threatening intestinal bleeding or perforation. This includes vomiting fresh or old blood (can appear similar to coffee grounds), maroon colored foul-smelling stools, severe abdominal pain, and passing out. If you think you may have an ulcer, see a doctor immediately.
- Gastrointestinal Cancer — The symptoms can be insidious and often present only in the later stages of the disease, therefore making it important to obtain screening colonoscopies and not to ignore other symptoms, including unintentional weight loss, anemia (low blood count), poor appetite, abdominal pain, nausea, changes in stool caliber, changes in stool color, and constipation.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — Commonly referred to as acid reflux and heartburn, this condition causes stomach acid to back up into the esophagus—causing burning, possible chest pain, trouble swallowing, constantly clearing throat, cough, asthma, sinus infections, or sore throat.
Diagnosing Hernias and Abdominal Disorders
- Physical exam — Hernias are most often diagnosed due to their visible appearance and their ability to be pushed back into the body. Appendicitis is also tested in part by physical examination for pain in the region of the appendix.
- CT scan/MRI/Ultrasound — Helps to confirm a hernia or appendicitis.
- Endoscopy — An EGD (Esophagogastroduodenoscopy) or colonoscopy may be performed to assess GERD/Reflux, a hiatal hernia, ulcers, intestinal bleeding, weight loss, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
- Surgery to repair hernia — Since hernias do not go away on their own, surgery is always necessary to repair the problem and eliminate your symptoms. This also prevents a future complication such as an intestinal obstruction. Open surgery, laparoscopic techniques, and robotic surgery are all common options, depending on your needs.
- Prescription medicine — For conditions such as GERD and ulcers, short-term medications, as well as dietary and lifestyle modifications, can be helpful and prevent future complications.
Most people who have surgery for a hernia will go home the same day and recuperate at home. Appendicitis surgery may require an overnight stay in the hospital before being released. Light activity can usually be resumed after 2 weeks, while more strenuous physical exertion will need to wait for 4-6 weeks after your surgery. This helps prevent a recurrence and allows for greater success with the surgery.
Bruising and swelling is expected around the incisions and overall in the abdominal area.
Steri-strips are placed over the incisions and typically remain until the post-operative appointment.
Recommended Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Since a common cause of hernias is tied to obesity and straining, maintaining a healthy weight and healthy diet is a valuable preventative measure.
- Choose a healthy diet and good eating habits.
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains to prevent constipation (and straining at the toilet).
- Don’t lift anything that is too heavy to handle.
- Lift objects with proper techniques to avoid straining.
- Get medical care for persistent coughing and sneezing.
- Avoid smoking, which can lead to persistent coughing. It also compromises wound healing—which can lead to failure of the repair or infections.
Additional tips for other abdominal disorders include:
- Avoid drinking, which can agitate an ulcer.
- If you’re dealing with acid reflux, eliminating certain foods that exacerbate your symptoms can be helpful (caffeine, tomatoes, etc.). Your doctor can provide specific recommendations.
What causes a hernia?
Normally, our internal organs are held in their proper place by the muscles and tissues that surround them. A hernia occurs when the organ pushes through that muscle or tissue. This can occur due to weakened muscles that you were simply born with, or the result of repeated straining of the muscles through activities such as lifting heavy items, exercise, obesity, pregnancy, or straining during toilet use.
Where do hernias most often show up?
Hernias usually occur in the abdomen, between the chest and the hips, as well as in the groin.
Will my hernia get better on its own? Can I use natural treatments?
Unfortunately, once a hernia forms, it will not get better. In fact, the longer you allow them to be ignored, the bigger and more painful they can become. This leads to a more complicated surgery. The bulging can obstruct other bodily functions or cut off the blood supply to the intestines, which are both dangerous. It’s important to consult a medical doctor before a hernia grows worse.
Can ulcers resolve on their own?
Sometimes. Typically, ulcers do reoccur from time to time. But treating them with the proper medicines and changes in your diet will work together to help ulcers from becoming worse.