When you develop a hernia, you may wonder if something besides physical activity caused it. Can stress cause a hernia, too?
The short answer is no: Worrying or emotional stress didn’t cause your hernia. But it’s understandable if having a hernia causes you to worry or feel stressed!
Understanding what causes a hernia in the first place can help you keep it from growing bigger and getting worse.
What Is a Hernia?
From the outside, a hernia looks and feels like a soft lump or bulge. Hernias are pouches that form inside your body when organs or tissue push through an opening or weak spot in muscle walls.
There are different types of hernia. The causes and risk factors vary based on the type of hernia. The most common type of hernia is inguinal hernia.
Inguinal hernias are hernias that form in the lower stomach or groin area. They make up 75% of all abdominal wall hernias, according to StatPearls.
Some 25% of men and 2% of women develop at least one inguinal hernia at some point in their lives.
Risk factors for inguinal hernia
Hernias can affect anyone, at any age. Since inguinal hernias are the most common, it helps to know what can increase your risk of developing one. These include:
Having a family history of hernia makes you four times more likely to have an inguinal hernia compared to someone with no family history. That’s according to StatPearls.
Underlying health conditions
Certain diseases may increase your risk of developing inguinal hernia. These include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (CODP).
- Ehlers-Danos syndrome.
- Marfan syndrome.
Increased pressure in your abdomen
Causes for intra-abdominal pressure include:
- Obesity or sudden weight gain.
- Chronic cough or sneezing.
- Lifting heavy objects.
- Straining during bowel movements from constipation or diarrhea.
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Other Types of Hernias
There are several other common types of hernia. Each of these have different causes and include:
These hernias develop in the upper part of your stomach, between the breastbone and the belly button. They are often present at birth, but most people don’t know they have one unless they feel symptoms. Like inguinal hernias, abdominal pressure can cause these to develop or make them worse.
These painful lumps develop near your groin, on the inside of your upper thigh. They are more common in women. Pregnancy is a risk factor.
These happen when the upper part of your stomach bulges through a small opening in your diaphragm and into your chest. You often can’t see these from the outside. But you may feel symptoms such as heartburn or a feeling of fullness.
If you have surgery on your abdomen, you can develop a hernia at the incision site. Risk factors include lifting heavy objects, smoking, and diabetes, all of which can prevent the incision from healing properly.
These are hernias located in your belly button. Babies can develop umbilical hernias, but they usually disappear by the time they are two years old. Risk factors include being overweight or having multiple pregnancies.
What Causes a Hernia?
A combination of weak muscle walls and physical stress or strain can cause you to develop a hernia.
Some people are born with weak abdominal muscles. For others, physical strain can weaken abdominal muscles over time. If you already have a hernia, physical strain can make it grow larger and more painful.
Emotional stress can’t cause a hernia, but emotional stress is related to hernias in other ways. Finding a lump on your body can cause you to worry that it’s something else, like a tumor. And the pain from your hernia can get in the way of your daily life and physical activities, which can cause emotional stress.
Some hernias can cause discomfort or pain. You may feel the pain more when you cough, sneeze, stand up, or strain or move your body in certain ways. With an inguinal hernia you may also feel heaviness or burning in your groin area.
If you have symptoms with your hernia, they may get better when you rest or lie down.
Some hernias don’t cause any pain or symptoms. You may notice a bulge only when you stand up. But it disappears when you lie flat.
When to Worry About Hernia Pain
Hernias can grow and become more painful. Call your doctor right away if you develop any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden or severe pain or tenderness in the hernia area.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- A bulge that is suddenly larger.
- A bulge that no longer goes back inside the abdomen as it once did.
- Redness in the hernia area.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, these are the warning signs of a hernia sac that is stuck or strangulated. And these are medical emergencies that can be life-threatening.
And if you’ve had a hernia operation, call your doctor right away if you notice any redness, swelling, or discomfort at the incision site. You may have an infection that needs treatment.
What Can You Do to Prevent a Hernia?
In general, to prevent a hernia follow these tips:
- Use caution when weightlifting or lifting heavy objects. Never lift anything that’s too heavy. If you already have a hernia, your doctor may tell you to avoid weightlifting.
- If you have to lift something, don’t bend over at your waist or use your back. Instead, bend down at your knees and lift with your legs.
- Maintain a healthy body weight for your height.
- Eat a balanced diet that’s high in fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And drink lots of water. This can keep you from getting constipated and straining during bowel movements.
- Take care of chronic coughs and sneezing. Seasonal allergies, strep throat, and the flu can all cause lasting coughs and sneezing. Your doctor can help figure out what’s causing these symptoms and may prescribe something for them.
- Quit smoking or vaping. These can cause chronic coughing.
How to Treat a Hernia
If you have a hernia but don’t have any pain, your doctor may recommend what’s called “watchful waiting.” That means your doctor will follow you for any changes to the hernia’s size, shape, or symptoms. They may recommend lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or avoiding certain activities, to keep it from getting worse.
In some cases, your doctor can massage the hernia back into place. And small hiatal hernias can go away on their own. Femoral hernias that continue to grow often require surgery.
If your hernia is painful, surgery to repair the opening in the muscle wall is the recommended treatment option. It’s the only way to get rid of the hernia and the pain it causes.
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