One in every 4 men will experience a hernia during their lifetime, yet many people don’t know the basics about the condition until it happens.
Here’s what you need to know about hernias and men’s health.
What is a hernia?
A hernia is a medical condition that occurs when an organ squeezes through a weak spot in the muscle or tissue that holds it in place. Most hernias happen in the abdomen and aren’t immediately life-threatening. However, hernias will not go away on their own, so you must seek treatment to prevent serious health complications.
Where do hernias typically occur in the body?
Hernias happen most often in the abdomen.
The most common types for men are:
- Inner groin (inguinal): The intestine or bladder pushes through the stomach or groin tissue. About 96% of all groin hernias are inguinal. Most occur in men because of a natural weakness in that part of the stomach.
- Incisional: The intestine pushes through the abdominal walls at the site of a previous surgical incision. This happens most often to elderly or overweight people who are inactive after abdominal surgery.
- Upper stomach (hiatal): The stomach squeezes through an opening in the diaphragm (hiatus) into the chest cavity. This happens most often to people over age 50 or to children with congenital birth defects.
There are 2 additional types of hernia that men can have but that are much more common in women:
- Outer groin/upper thigh (femoral), which are most common in pregnant or obese women; and
- Belly button (umbilical), which are common in newborns, obese women or women who’ve had many children.
What are the symptoms of a hernia?
Groin or incisional:
- A bulge or lump in the affected area
- Pain, weakness, pressure or heaviness in the abdomen
- Burning, gurgling or aching at the hernia site
You’ll be more likely to see and feel the protrusion from an inguinal hernia from the outside while standing, bending down or coughing.
- Acid reflux (almost all hiatal hernias cause reflux)
- Chest pain
- Trouble swallowing
What causes hernias?
All hernias are caused by a combination of muscle weakness and pressure, which most commonly comes from:
- Lifting heavy objects
- Straining due to diarrhea or constipation
- Ongoing coughing or sneezing
- Sudden weight gain
- Abdominal surgery
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen, often caused by a liver problem such as cirrhosis
Men may be more at risk of hernia if they:
- Have a family history of hernias
- Are overweight or obese
- Experience chronic constipation
- Smoke and/or have a chronic cough
Are certain people more likely to have hernias?
Yes, hernias affect men 12X as often as women. Up to 27% of men will experience a hernia at some point in their lives.
How is a hernia treated?
Hernia treatment depends on the type and severity of your hernia. It may include medication, surgery or lifestyle changes.
Once your hernia has been diagnosed and treated, try these small lifestyle changes:
- Avoid heavy meals, overeating or foods that cause reflux or heartburn
- Don’t lie down or bend over immediately after meals
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid lifting weights that are too heavy
- Always lift objects with your knees, not your back
- Don’t try any muscle-strengthening exercises around the hernia site unless approved by your doctor or physical therapist