What is a hernia?
Hernias are bulges of material, usually contained in a body cavity, that protrude through the cavity's wall. These bulges of material may consist of almost any tissue or organ type and may occur almost anywhere in the body. An individual may have multiple hernias of the same or different types. The most frequent type of hernia and the type most people are familiar with are those that are caused by bulges of intestine or abdominal fatty tissue that protrude through different areas in the abdominal cavity. However, many people are confused by the term hernia because the type of hernia which usually precedes the term “hernia” is not clearly defined to them. The following is a list of many hernia types and what they indicate.
The following is a list of major and some minor types of hernias that may occur in individuals:
- Inguinal hernias: These occur on both sides of the lower abdomen. Two-thirds of all hernias are inguinal, occurring most often in men. They can be termed direct (goes through the floor of inguinal canal) or indirect (goes through the internal inguinal ring). Indirect hernias have a higher tendency to progress to nonreducible or incarcerated types of hernias (see below), so they should be surgically repaired soon after diagnosis.
- Ventral (incisional hernias): These hernias occur in the abdomen at the site of a previous surgery (incisional) or at areas that have been weakened, damaged or are susceptible to tearing (ventral).
- Femoral hernias: These hernias appear just above the groin crease and occur most frequently in older women and after pregnancy and childbirth.
- Umbilical hernias: These occur near the belly button (navel) and often occur in infants; some may resolve in children aged 3 to 4, but others may persist. Also, they can occur at any age.
- Epigastric hernias: These hernias occur in the upper abdomen at or above the belly to the breastbone; they occur more frequently in men than women.
- Hiatal hernias: These occur through the diaphragm into the chest cavity; these hernias are not usually visible nor can they be palpated.
- Acquired and congenital hernias: Acquired hernias occur during life activities while straining muscles (for example, childbirth or post surgeries) while congenital hernias are present from birth (most children with hernias have congenital hernias).
- Reducible and nonreducible hernias: Reducible hernias can be flattened out (reduced) by laying down and/or applying some pressure to the bulge while nonreducible hernias occur when a loop of intestine becomes trapped and cannot be flattened out using the same laying down/pressure technique. A nonreducible hernia is usually painful and is termed an incarcerated hernia and people with these hernias need to be seen quickly, usually by a surgeon.
- Strangulated hernias: These hernias are nonreducible hernias that have trapped the bulge of tissue (usually intestinal tissue) so tightly that the blood supply is compromised and can result in tissue death and gangrene. This type of hernia requires emergency surgery to release the tissue and repair the hernia.
The above hernia types are fairly common. Other common herniations occur in intervertebral disks that can cause back and leg pain. However, there are still other hernia types that are less common. As stated previously, hernias may appear almost anywhere in the body. There are at least 20 other named types of hernias. If a person knows what hernias are, it becomes much easier to understand that the types are usually named according to the location, tissue, or organ involved and the severity of the herniation.
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care
Brooks, David C., et al. "Classification, clinical features and diagnosis of inguinal and femoral hernias in adults." UpToDate. 25 Jan. 2013.
Brooks, David C., et al. "Overview of abdominal hernias." UpToDate. 9 Oct. 2012.