Hernia Basics

If you know nothing about hernias this is the correct page to start. If you think you know a lot about hernias please see Hernia Myths.

Once you know the basics then you will need information specific to your condition. There is a wealth of specific information about hernias on this website and the internet in general. After you start to feel comfortable with your understanding of hernias and before you commit yourself to surgery please read Hernia Myths.

What is a hernia?

In ten words a hernia is a protrusion of abdominal organs through the abdominal wall. But a picture is worth a thousand words. See picture:

inguinal hernia

On the left side (side with watch) the patient is pointing to a left inguinal hernia. His intestines are protruding through a hole in his abdominal wall and are headed toward his scrotum. His right side is normal. He is pointing to the spot on the right where inguinal hernias start before heading toward the scrotum. These hernias occur in one out of three men and must be fixed. More about that later.

Think of the abdomen as a container holding all of your digestive organs under pressure. Inside the container your intestines move about freely like a liquid. If the wall of the container develops a weakness the intestines push out.

Why do we get hernias?

Most hernias are the result of a congenital weakness of the abdominal wall, that is, a weakness that you are born with. Many hernias are the result of abdominal surgery that weakens the abdominal wall. These are called incisional hernias and occur in about 10% of patients who have abdominal surgery.

Straining and exercise will not cause a hernia but may promote a hernia where a weakness already exists. What is the difference between "cause" and "promote"? Some may say that it is the same thing. The point is that exercise will not promote a hernia in the absence of a weakness.

Who gets hernias?

Infants get them. Elderly get them. And everybody in between can get a hernia. Women get them but they occur more frequently in men.

What are the dangers of a hernia?

Hernias can be a threat to life if the protruding intestines become strangulated. They can become large and very unsightly. They can cause pain.

What kind of abdominal hernias are there?

Inguinal, umbilical, epigastric, incisional, trocar, Spigelian, diaphragmatic, lumbar, obturator and hiatal. There are also hernias that occur in other body cavities and spaces such as skull: brain hernia, spinal canal: disk hernia, eye: lens hernia.

Can hernias get better without surgery?

No! There is one exception. Small umbilical hernias in infants can heal by themselves.

What kinds of hernia repairs are there?

In broad categories there are open repairs and laparoscopic repairs, anatomical tissue based repairs and prosthetic mesh based repairs.

Beyond Hernia Basics

Now that you know the basics of hernias you will need information more specific to your particular situation. We encourage you to browse the wealth of information that we have on this website. Or if you just want to get right to it you can do our on-line consultation then speak with Dr. Petersen free of charge. To start your consultation click here.