A hernia occurs when part of an internal body organ protrudes through weak muscles. Usually the intestine or fatty tissue in the abdomen bulges out through the abdominal wall that surrounds the muscles. Hernias often lead to no symptoms. In some cases, there may be mild to severe pain. There is a risk of hernias becoming strangulated and restrict blood supply, because the area through which they protrude may exert pressure on the blood vessels and constrict them. Once blood supply is cut off, immediate medical care is required as the tissue needs oxygen to survive. There are different types of hernia such as inguinal hernias, femoral hernias, umbilical hernias and incisional hernias.
Symptoms of Hernia
Hernias are classified according to the part of the body in which they occur. Some hernias are more common than others. In most cases, hernias lead to bulging and pain in the affected area. There may also be certain symptoms which are specific to the location of the hernia. The common symptoms of hernia include:
- Inguinal Hernia: These hernias occur as a bulge in the groin area. They may develop on either side of the pubic bone and are more common in men. The protrusion increases when you change positions, cough or perform any physical activity. Straining while urinating or during bowel movements can also lead to a more pronounced bulge in the affected area. These hernias often lead to a heavy sensation which is more prominent when lifting something or while bending. Inguinal hernias can lead to swelling and pain in the testicles in men because the bulging portion of the intestine may descend into the scrotum.
- Femoral Hernia: These hernias occur when a portion of the intestine bulges out through a weak area in the abdominal wall near the thigh. The bulge may be detected in the upper region of the thigh, under the groin. The femoral artery and vein pass through this region. Physical activities which exert strain on the groin or thigh area can lead to pain.
- Umbilical Hernia: These hernias are seen as protruded areas near the navel. They are common in babies. Umbilical hernias occur when the abdominal muscles fail to close properly around the belly button while the baby is inside the womb. This causes the intestine to bulge through the weak area. These hernias may also occur due to certain rare diseases. They usually do not cause any pain, but the protrusion may become more pronounced during movement. Babies with umbilical hernias may not manifest any symptoms in the early years of life, but may do so later on.
- Incisional Hernias: These hernias develop after abdominal surgery. They occur in a scar and are seen as a prominent bulge. Medical conditions that exert pressure on the abdominal wall and strenuous physical activities may also lead to an incisional hernia.
Causes of Hernia
Some abdominal hernias may be present at birth while others may occur in the later years. The causes for hernia are varied and range from irregularities during fetal development, openings in the abdominal cavity and weakness of the abdominal wall. Hernias can occur due to any condition that leads to increased strain on the abdominal cavity. Some of the conditions include:
- Lifting heavy objects
- Persistent coughing
- Strain while urinating or during bowel movements
- Chronic lung disease
- Accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity
- Family history of hernias
Remedies for Hernia
Hernia treatment usually involves surgery especially if they are large and painful. Surgery helps to make the weak abdominal wall more secure and closes up existing holes with cloth patches. For umbilical hernias, doctors usually recommend waiting until the child is five years old. In some cases when the bulging sac becomes strangulated and blood supply is cut off, emergency surgery is required. If immediate medical attention is not received, the bulging area may lose blood supply completely and die.
It is advisable to consult a doctor if you notice any symptoms of a hernia. Natural remedies may offer some relief from the symptoms of hernia, but they will under no circumstance suffice as an alternative to conventional medical treatment. Also, keep in mind that most home remedies are not subjected to rigorous testing and results can vary greatly, with some even posing a health risk. Always consult with your doctor before trying any home treatment.
- The herb licorice has long been used as a healing remedy for various ailments such as respiratory trouble and sore throat. Licorice root may also encourage healing of damaged areas in the stomach lining and esophagus caused by a hernia. This will help to alleviate burning and pain in the chest and throat. It is important to consult your doctor before using licorice or any other herbs for hernia treatment.
- Ginger root is known to help in protecting the esophagus and stomach from damage due to buildup of gastric acids and bile. But keep in mind that in some cases, ginger root may lead to a stomach upset.
- Hernias in the abdominal region may lead to acid reflux. The herb chamomile helps to soothe the lining of the digestive tract and reduces the production of stomach acids. It also helps to soothe esophageal lining. Some people may experience nausea after using chamomile.
- Marshmallow root has many health benefits such as improved digestion and decreased production of digestive acids. It may thus help to alleviate hernia-related symptoms. However in rare cases it may trigger diarrhea.
- Hawthornia is an herbal supplement which helps to strengthen the muscles that support and protect the internal organs. It may even help to stop a hernia from developing and prevent its recurrence. Hawthornia consists of herbs such as citrus seed, hawthorn and fennel.
- The herb Shepherds purse helps to relieve inflammation, pain and swelling. It can also reduce bleeding and infection. Its tincture may be applied externally to the hernia-affected area to alleviate the symptoms. The herb may also be taken internally in the form of supplements.
- Hernia pain may be relieved through acupuncture. The stimulation of certain pressure points is known to help in reducing pain and discomfort. Such alternative therapies may not be effective in curing the problem, but they may help in dealing with the symptoms.
- Engage in gentle exercises which target the core abdominal muscles. Regular practice of such exercises helps to shed excess body weight and thus lowers the pressure on the abdominal muscles. However avoid any strenuous exercise or heavy lifting. It is best to have a discussion with your doctor before starting any exercise program. Avoid exercising immediately after eating and wait for about two to three hours.
- Stress can aggravate stomach ailments and acid reflux. Therefore it is advisable to manage stress effectively through various techniques such as yoga, breathing exercises and meditation.
- Ice compresses are one of the best home remedies for hernia. They may help to alleviate pain and swelling caused by the hernia.
- Avoid applying any heat or pressure to the affected area.
- Avoid exercising on a full stomach.
- Tight clothes can exert pressure on the abdomen and hence it is advisable to wear only loose, comfortable clothing.
- Keep the head of your bed elevated by about six inches as this will prevent gastric acids from travelling back into the esophagus during sleep. Use bricks to elevate the bed frame and avoid using pillows as they may increase stress on the abdomen.
- Avoid eating large meals and opt for smaller, frequent meals throughout the day.
- Refrain from lying down or bending soon after eating.
- Avoid consuming alcohol.
Diet for Hernia
In order to prevent recurrences, the diet for hernia should be high in protein and low in fat. A low intake of protein and excess consumption of fat can cause the abdominal walls to become weak, thus increasing the risk of hernia. Therefore it is advisable to include in your diet foods that are rich in protein such as cottage cheese, tuna and chicken. Also opt for low-fat milk and dairy products to control your fat intake. Fiber is also an important addition to the diet. Consume plenty of fresh fruits such as apples and pears as they are rich in fiber. Nuts, whole grains and beans are also excellent sources of fiber. A good intake of fiber will promote better bowel movements and alleviate constipation. This will help to reduce the symptoms of hernia.
Suggestions for Hernia
Here are some tips that help in managing hernia symptoms:
- Maintain a healthy body weight by following a low-calorie, nutritious diet. Also practice regular exercise especially if you are overweight.
- Include plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains in your diet. These are full of nutrients and also high in fiber.
- Exercise caution when lifting anything heavy or while weight lifting. Always bend from the knees instead of the waist when lifting heavy objects.
- Persistent coughing can aggravate symptoms of hernia. Therefore seek medical care in case you suffer from allergies or any other respiratory problems.
- Smoking can lead to constant coughing which can exert strain on the abdominal muscles. Therefore it is advisable to quit smoking.