“Turn your head and cough.” If you’re a guy, you’ve probably heard this before. Do you know why your doctor performs this test? They’re assessing for a hernia. By holding the top of the scrotum and asking a man to cough, your doctor is feeling for a bulge that indicates a hernia.
Because this test is performed in men, you might think that only males can have a hernia. Dr. Chengelis understands the risk factors for hernias that affect both men and women, how to identify hernias, and when repair is needed. Here are a few things he wants you to know about hernias and lifting.
What is a hernia?
Your stomach muscles are a series of long strands held together by connective tissue. When the tissue weakens or tears, your intestines can push through the muscles. When this happens, you might feel a small lump where the muscle is weak, this is actually the intestines that have pushed through the tissue and lie just under the skin. If the muscles close up behind the intestines, it may result in a life-threatening situation, known as a strangulated hernia.
Risk factors for a hernia
Anyone can suffer from a hernia, regardless of gender or age. Hernias are most common in babies and toddlers. They tend to develop when you’re born with a weakness or defect in the stomach wall. Adults may be born with this defect or develop a weakened area over time that puts more pressure on the muscle wall. The connective tissue weakens as you age, leaving many older people dealing with hernias.
Causes of a Hernia
Most people know the specific moment they first noticed a hernia. It’s common to see a bulge during or after activities that increase the amount of pressure in the abdominal cavity. Coughing, a difficult bowel movement, sex or even sneezing can create enough pressure to push the intestines through a weakened muscle wall.
That means that lifting heavy objects, especially repetitively, can cause a hernia. It’s important to know that lifting alone doesn’t create a hernia, but heavy lifting combined with the weakened abdominal muscles can.
Types of hernias
The most common type of a hernia is an inguinal hernia. This occurs when there is a weakness in the abdominal wall near the bottom of your abdomen. The defect allows gravity to pull your intestines through the muscles and into the groin area. This is the type of hernia your doctor is looking for when they ask you to turn your head and cough.
Umbilical hernias are also fairly common and show up when there’s a weakness in the muscle wall around the belly button. An epigastric hernia is similar, it simply describes a weakness higher than the belly button, but below the chest wall. A hiatal hernia occurs when there’s a weakness in the muscle at the top of the stomach called the diaphragm. When this happens, the stomach can push through the tissue into the chest cavity.
Symptoms of a hernia
Symptoms depend on the type of hernia. The most common symptom is a lump that can be felt or even seen. They’re most often felt around the belly button for an umbilical hernia, higher on the stomach for an epigastric hernia, or in the groin for an inguinal hernia. Generally, people can’t feel a hiatal hernia, since it happens deeper inside the body. But you may have other symptoms such as persistent heartburn or stomach upset.
Women can get hernias too. The symptoms are often more subtle for women compared to men. You might notice pain or swelling around your vagina if you have a hernia.
If a hernia is small and flexible, you might not need surgical treatment. With smaller hernias, the intestines can be pushed back into the abdominal cavity and the muscles can heal.
In more severe cases, Dr. Chengelis may suggest surgery. This doesn’t mean a huge incision or weeks to heal. Laparoscopic surgery can often fix the weakened area with just a couple of tiny incisions. Dr. Chengelis uses the latest in robotic and laparoscopic surgical equipment to get you back up and enjoying life.
If you think you might be suffering from a hernia, book your appointment online or give our office a call today. During your consultation with Dr. Chengelis, you can sit down to discuss your options. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll be able to pick up heavy objects without a moment of worry.