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Hernias can appear at any location in the body where tissue is weak and therefore potentially vulnerable to herniation. Abdominal hernias are the most common and most well-known type of hernia, and they are usually easy to identify and treat. While many hernia types cause a characteristic bulge and pain which make diagnosis fairly straightforward, some hernia types occur inside the body, where the herniation may not be apparent until a complication such as strangulation has developed.
A hernia occurs when an internal organ or pocket of fatty tissue pushes through the material which is supposed to protect it and hold it in place. In a classic example of a hernia, the intestines push through the abdomen, creating an abdominal hernia. Herniation can occur in a previously weakened site, such as an area where surgery occurred, or it can happen as a result of prolonged strain and stress. In all cases, it is important to surgically repair the hernia to prevent complications.
Abdominal hernias, which involve the intestines or fat of the abdomen, can be divided into several different hernia types. Inguinal hernias, which occur around the ground area, account for around three quarters of all abdominal hernias. In femoral hernias, a bulge appears lower in the body, while umbilical hernias cause a characteristic swelling of the navel. In an epigastric hernia, fatty tissue pushes its way through the muscles between the navel and the chest.
Some internal hernia types include perineal hernias, in which internal organs push through the pelvic floor, and diatal and diaphragmatic hernias, which involve a weakening of the diaphragm. In these hernias, the stomach and other internal organs can push up into the chest, compressing the lungs and making it difficult to breathe. Some people are born with diaphragmatic hernias, and they require immediate surgery to correct this life-threatening birth defect.
Spinal disc herniations occur when the tough outer casing which normally protects the spinal discs weakens, allowing the soft material inside to bulge out. These hernia types can cause considerable pain and long-term damage if they are not addressed, as they may lead to pinched nerves. Anal hernias are characterized by a bulge which appears around the anus, sometimes inside the body and sometimes outside.
In a so-called “sports hernia,” people experience chronic groin pain and a widening of the inguinal canal. True herniation does not occur in these cases, but the condition can feel like a hernia, and it is often treated with the same surgical techniques which are used to address real hernias.