5 Symptoms You May Not Expect with a Hernia

When it comes to the symptoms of a hernia, the important thing is to recognize which are the most significant ones so that you can act promptly. Of course, these symptoms only give circumstantial evidence of something that is best diagnosed by a physician. If you are due for a physical, your physician may spot the signs, even if you can’t; if there is a noticeable bulge somewhere in your body, he/she can also tell whether it’s a hernia or if it may be something else.

At any rate, it’s a good idea for you to know whether you have a hernia or not—something that you probably won’t even suspect unless one or more of the symptoms below have popped up. Naturally, the more symptoms arise, the higher the likelihood that you have a hernia. The final determination, though, can best be made by the trained hands and eyes of a physician.

Many of these symptoms you may already know about or have experienced if you (or someone else in your family) have ever had a hernia. This article will talk about five symptoms that are less well-known.

Did you know, for example, that hernias can be fatal in some cases? If more people knew that, then more people would take hernias seriously—maybe work harder to avoid its risk factors. Then again, many hernias come about because of genetic predisposition and congenital defects that you wouldn’t have known about until a hernia developed.

In other words, a hernia isn’t necessarily the fault of the person who gets one. Lifting heavy things, for example, can be a contributing factor but probably not the leading cause.

Still, it’s important to know what the symptoms are so that, if a hernia develops or is threatening (by giving you pain and other sensations) to develop, you can seek medical assistance as soon as possible. Without further ado, here are the most likely symptoms/signs you should be aware of.

Most Commonly-Seen Symptoms & Signs of a Hernia

A lump or bulge, most probably in the abdominal area or near the site of a previous operation; if it’s for an inguinal hernia, the bulge may occur on opposite sides of the pubic bone, where the thigh & groin meet

  • Pain & discomfort (especially when coughing, bending over or lifting)
  • Weakness, heaviness or pressure in the abdominal area
  • A gurgling, burning or aching sensation near the lump
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty emitting flatulence
  • A dragging or heavy sensation, weakness & pressure at the groin
  • Pain around the testicles
  • Irritability and lack of appetite in babies
  • Difficulty defecating
  • A bulge that turns darker

Then, there are the five symptoms you are least likely to expect. Each can be crucially important for both diagnosing a hernia and, more importantly, as a reason for taking proactive steps so that you can obtain the best possible outcome.

  1. Constipation & Bowel Obstruction

    One of the dangerous aspects of hernias is that they can negatively affect your ability to defecate (and, perhaps, even to urinate). This becomes more likely if your intestines become part of a hernia, are close to one, or are subjected to pressure that may negatively affect involuntary peristalsis (the ability of your intestines to keep things moving in the right direction).

In the less-serious cases, mild constipation may be the result. If the problem worsens, however, it could lead to bowel obstruction which, if not diagnosed and treated promptly, can be life-threatening.

A bowel obstruction can take place in the colon/large intestine or the small intestine, and it can come about either because of internal problems (a tumor, lingering scars, diverticulitis or some other blocking mechanism) or because of external dilemmas (hernia trapping parts of the intestines).

If a section of the intestines breaks through the abdominal wall, then what is known as a hernia is created. This can lead to the intestines becoming dysfunctional at the hernia site, especially as the hernia grows or if it gets so tightly trapped as to impede movement of feces or the intestines being able to return back inside the abdomen.

  1. Acid Reflux & Chest Pain

    Often caused by a hiatal hernia (involving the stomach and the hiatus), reflux refers to stomach acid flowing backwards (where it doesn’t belong) into the esophagus. Beyond the fact that the part of the stomach that pushes through the hiatus may become incarcerated or strangulated (possibly leading to blood supply being cut off and, as a result of that, gangrene or necrosis), you can also develop GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

GERD can be treated but, until it’s diagnosed, it can cause significant damage to the esophagus and surrounding tissue. Complications associated with GERD include hoarseness, pneumonia, sleep apnea, and cancer. The pain that acid reflux can inflict at times can seem very severe, sometimes mimicking a heart attack.

Fortunately, there are powerful medicines (like proton pump inhibitors) and surgical procedures (anti-reflux surgery)  to counter this problem but, unfortunately, until the problem is diagnosed complications can be the result.

  1. Respiratory Complications

    Most people will probably not associate respiratory problems with hernias, but this isn’t as unusual as it may sound.  Hiatal hernias, while sometimes asymptomatic, they can induce chronic and/or acute respiratory distress—more specifically, coughing. This happens when stomach contents (food and acid) back up (reflux) into the throat and cause irritation.  Hoarseness, coughing, and even pneumonia can result.  Many times a patient is unaware of the reflux episodes because they happen at night, during sleep.  In fact, people who suffer from sleep apnea and asthma often have acid reflux issues. If not treated, sleep apnea can be harmful or worse — in some cases, for example, it can trigger a heart attack or some other serious complication.

  2. Incarceration

    One of the dangers that you run by not repairing a hernia is the ever-present possibility of tissue entrapment or incarceration. Simply put, incarceration occurs when a hernia (i.e., sections of the intestines or other tissue/organ inside the human body) gets trapped as it protrudes through the abdominal wall (or some other weakened section of a cavity).

As long as a hernia can remain mobile (i.e., be able to be pushed back where it belongs, like inside the abdomen), then treatment plans remain relatively easy. When the hernia reaches a comparatively large size, however, treatment options become more complicated. The hernia will typically cause pain and possibly nausea at this stage.  While incarceration is usually not life-threatening, it is a warning sign that can indicate progression to tissue strangulation at any time.

  1. Strangulation

    By far, this is the worst “symptom” that you can have from a hernia. A hernia becomes “strangulated” if blood flow to the trapped or incarcerated tissue becomes compromised. Should that happen, tissue damage can set in, possibly resulting in necrosis and gangrene (tissue death) — often accompanied by a surrounding infection. This is an emergency situation – and requires urgent surgery to save a patient’s life.

The bottom line is that, unlike most of the symptoms listed in this article, strangulation is a medical emergency that can’t be put off. In other words, strangulation is a “worst case” scenario—i.e., the type of thing you should avoid at all cost and one of the best reasons to seek surgical help before your hernia escalates to such life-threatening circumstances.

If you have a hernia and experience any of these symptoms, immediately seek medical assistance:

  • Vomiting, nausea or both
  • Pain that intensifies, at the hernia site or generally in the abdomen
  • A Fever
  • A visible hernia that becomes darker in color or hue
  • Worsening constipation


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