Lady with hands on stomach

What Does an Abdominal Hernia Feel Like?

An abdominal hernia (also called a ventral hernia) occurs when a small opening develops in the muscles allowing the inner lining of the abdomen to protrude. An abdominal hernia may cause mild to moderate discomfort or there may be no symptoms at all. Ventral hernias frequently develop in vulnerable areas of the abdominal wall such as your belly button or spots where you’ve previously had incisions for surgery. Abdominal hernias can be the result of one or more of the following factors:

  • Aging
  • Congenital conditions from birth
  • Strain from chronic coughing, bowel movements, constipation, etc.
  • Infection from previous surgeries
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Surgical openings or injuries

You may not know you have the condition, or you may notice the external signs of having a hernia which include a small bulge or pouch-like protrusion in the abdomen. Over time, a ventral hernia may get larger if it is not repaired.

What Does a Hernia In Your Stomach Feel Like?

In this article, we’ll discuss what a hernia feels like and different signs of having a hernia.

Symptom 1: A Bulge

One of the main symptoms of an abdominal hernia is a soft bulge in your stomach. This pouch or bubble is where the abdominal lining, and sometimes other abdominal contents have pushed through the muscle wall. Typically, these lumps are small, and they frequently vanish when pressed on or when lying down.

Symptom 2: Pain

Most of the time, abdominal hernias don’t involve much pain. However, you may feel some pain, pressure, or a tugging sensation when straining or lifting. More severe pain may indicate that your hernia has become strangulated, cutting off circulation to vital tissues and requiring surgery. This is an emergency situation and requires immediate medical attention.

If you notice the first two signs of having a hernia, and you then develop any of the symptoms below, seek medical attention right away.

Symptom 3: Constipation

A strangulated hernia can also cause gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, difficulty passing gas, and bloody stools. If this occurs, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Symptom 4: Redness and Inflammation

Another symptom of a strangulated abdominal hernia is inflammation in the affected area. It may appear dark red and feel tender to the touch.

Symptom 5: Nausea and Vomiting

If the hernia cuts off circulation to the tissues poking through the abdominal wall, you may experience nausea and vomiting. If this occurs, you may have a strangulated hernia and need immediate medical attention.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Hernia and Abdominal Strain

It’s worth noting that abdominal pain may not necessarily come from a hernia. You might just have a strained muscle. If it goes away after a few days of rest, it’s probably just abdominal muscle strain. On the other hand, if it tends to flare up whenever you exert yourself, you should probably have it checked.

Types of Abdominal Hernias

Abdominal hernias come in various forms depending on location and root cause.

Umbilical Hernias

An umbilical hernia occurs right around the belly button where a weak point in the abdominal wall allows some fat or intestine to come through. In most cases, they’re harmless, and they’re most common in infants. However, adults can develop an umbilical hernia as well, especially if they are obese or regularly strain to lift heavy objects.

Epigastric Hernias

Weak points in the belly between the navel and your breastbone may let bits of fat poke through, causing an epigastric hernia. Often, epigastric hernias don’t cause noticeable symptoms, but they sometimes become large enough to cause pain and warrant surgery. As with other hernias, epigastric hernias often result from strain, old age, or incisions.

Incisional Hernias

Areas weakened by incisions or infections from surgery may result in incisional hernias. They can occur when incisional wounds don’t heal properly, which is why it’s important to avoid straining wounds after surgery. Often, they are larger than other types of hernias, causing noticeable pain and requiring surgery.

Spigelian Hernias

Spigelian hernias are rarer than other types because they don’t occur under layers of fat. Instead, they develop in the midst of abdominal muscle tissue, often causing pain in the lower abdomen. Spigelian hernias are often smaller and harder to detect, and they have a higher risk of developing into strangulated hernias. They are most common in women and adults over 60, and they may become life-threatening if left untreated.

How Is an Abdominal Hernia Diagnosed?

About one in ten adults will likely develop a hernia at some point in their lifetime. To diagnose a hernia, your surgeon will feel your abdominal wall for bulges. If that test is inconclusive, imaging tests, such as an MRI or ultrasound, can provide more conclusive evidence.

Treating an Abdominal Hernia

If left untreated, an abdominal hernia can grow larger, increasing the level of discomfort. In extreme cases, it may become strangulated, creating severe health issues and requiring immediate treatment.

The only way to treat an abdominal hernia is through surgery.

Traditional Abdominal Hernia Repair

Hernias are traditionally treated with open surgery, in which an incision is made in the abdominal wall. The tissue is then either stitched shut or (more commonly) reinforced with mesh.

Open surgery is risky in that it usually results in more blood loss than laparoscopic hernia repair. In addition, there’s a higher risk that reoperation will be needed (12.5% for open surgery vs. 7% for laparoscopic repair).

Laparoscopic Hernia Repair

minimally invasive approach makes use of a laparoscope, which is a tiny camera on a long tube. The camera is inserted through a small incision to let your surgeon see the hernia from the inside. A few other smaller incisions are made, and the mesh is placed.

Laparoscopic hernia repair is often preferred since it requires much smaller incisions. You’ll recover more quickly, experience less pain, and have a lower chance of infection. However, not all patients are candidates for laparoscopic hernia surgery. To see if laparoscopic hernia repair is right for you, contact Dr. Malladi for an appointment.

Abdominal Hernia FAQs

Common questions about abdominal hernias include the following.

Does hernia pain come and go?

Hernia pain may decrease (or vanish entirely) when there’s less pressure/strain on your abdomen.

When should I worry about hernia pain?

See a doctor immediately if you have sudden plain accompanied by nausea or fever.

Is open hernia surgery better or worse than laparoscopic?

Laparoscopic hernia surgery often requires less healing time and may have fewer complications than open surgery.

Tips on How to Prevent an Abdominal Hernia

Often, abdominal hernias are preventable through the following methods:

  • Exercise to strengthen abdominal muscles and lose weight.
  • Eat healthy. Cut calories and increase protein and nutrients.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Don’t lift more than you can physically handle.
  • Eat plenty of fiber to prevent abdominal straining from constipation.

If you’ve already had hernia repair surgery, these prevention methods are still important. There is a small chance your hernia could return.

If you think you may have an abdominal hernia, Dr. Malladi provides the compassionate, individualized care you need. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.