Hernia Overview

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a condition where part of an organ (commonly the intestines) protrudes through a weakness in the wall of muscle or tissue that holds the organ in place. A sac created in the lining of the abdominal cavity containing fat or part of the colon is created by the weakness, and pushes through the weakened area in the abdominal wall when abdominal pressure increases, as when one coughs or sneezes. Some types of hernias “self-reduce” meaning they disappear when the person is in certain positions or when pushed in. Hernias may take a long time to develop or occur unexpectedly.

Symptoms of a hernia

Most often the first symptom is a bulge under the skin. It may be painless, but can create discomfort, and enlarge to become visible when coughing or doing strenuous activity, and in certain positions. At this stage, the bulge can be pushed back into the abdomen, and is called a reducible hernia.

But, when the hernia enlarges, it can become incarcerated meaning it is trapped, and is unable to be pushed back into the abdomen.


Many hernias are diagnosed during a routine physical. Discovery of all types of hernias requires a complete diagnostic examination by a surgeon at the BASS Medical Group in Northern California.

Complications of a hernia

When blood flow is blocked due to the incarcerated intestines it is called a strangulated hernia. The symptoms are pain, nausea, vomiting and constipation. A strangulated hernia is a life- threatening medical emergency because the trapped bowel can die due to lack of blood supply, and it can result in peritonitis or inflammation of the abdominal cavity and requires immediate surgical removal of the trapped part of the bowel.

What causes a hernia?

Hernias are most often caused by muscle weakness in combination with some type of strain.

Risk factors include:

  • A family history of hernias and hernia repairs
  • Older white men
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Weight lifting, chronic coughing, straining during bowel movements
  • Cystic fibrosis and chronic lung infections
  • Previous abdominal surgery

Hernias in Children

Some people are born with weak abdominal tissue, which makes them more likely to acquire a hernia. This is called a congenital hernia. Children and toddlers often develop inguinal (5 out of 100 babies)and umbilical hernias. In a child, an umbilical hernia typically becomes noticeable a few weeks after birth, and usually resolves without treatment, by the time the child reaches age 2.

Types of Hernias

Abdominal wall hernias are classified by their anatomical location. Four common types are:

  • Epigastric- in the middle of the abdomen between the breastbone and the belly button usually appear in middle age at a ratio of 3 males to one female.
  • Umbilical- at the midline of the abdomen around the belly button. It commonly affects pregnant women, obese adults and is predominantly found in women between the ages of 50-70. Here part of the intestines protrude through the abdominal wall around the naval.
  • Inguinal – inner groin- the most common type of hernia in both men and women. Here a part of the intestines pushes through a weakness in the abdominal wall in or around the groin.
  • Femoral- outer groin
  • Incisional- an incisional hernia usually affects people who have had major surgery, and/or in those who have connective tissue disease. Also at risk are people over age 65, males, with atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, and various other conditions.

Every year hundreds of thousands of patients suffer from abdominal wall hernias. And countless pain and suffering costs millions of dollars in lost wages

Our mission is to provide quality health care in each community where our physicians practice. We believe in partnering with our patients to understand their needs and work with them to formulate a treatment plan for optimal care. Let us help you.

The general surgeons at BASS Medical Group are board-certified and experienced in hernia diagnosis and repair, and they are Fellows of the American College of Surgeons. Our multi-specialty group is dedicated to your health and well being. Choosing the right surgeon to perform your surgery is one of the most important decisions a patient can make. Our convenient offices are located in numerous locations in San Francisco and the east Bay, California to serve our patients. Find the location convenient to you. Then call BASS Medical Group to schedule a consultation to discuss your concerns, get answers to your questions and receive professional, quality care.