Abdominal Hernias: Types, Causes and Treatment

Published: Friday, April 8, 2022

An abdominal hernia occurs when an organ or other piece of tissue protrudes through layers of weakened muscles or tissues in the abdominal wall, usually in the groin, diaphragm or belly button. Abdominal hernias are common, but typically require hernia repair surgery because most don’t heal on their own.

What are the different types of abdominal hernias?

The most common types of abdominal hernias are inguinal (groin) hernias, hiatal (diaphragm) hernias and umbilical (belly button) hernias.  

An inguinal hernia is the most common of the abdominal hernias and occurs when a portion of the bowel protrudes out through an opening in the abdominal muscles into the groin. The bulge may contain abdominal tissue, fatty tissue or a loop of intestine. There are two types of inguinal hernias:

  • A direct inguinal hernia may develop when a weak area forms in the lower abdominal area.
  • An indirect inguinal hernia may occur if the inguinal canal fails to close before birth. This type of hernia is more common in males and may appear in a boy’s scrotum. It may occur later in life or at birth. When an indirect hernia occurs in a female, it is generally at the opening of a female’s vagina.

An umbilical hernia occurs when part of the intestine pushes through the abdomen near the belly button. Umbilical hernias are relatively common, and in most cases, painless. While umbilical hernias generally affect infants, they can also affect adults. In children, they will typically heal on their own by the time the child is three or four years old, but surgery is usually required for this type of hernia repair in adults.

Other types of hernias that can occur in the abdominal wall include:

  • A femoral hernia may occur when tissue in the abdomen pushes through a weak area or tear in the abdominal wall, resulting in a bulge in the upper thigh near the groin. Femoral hernias occur in women more often than men.
  • Incisional hernias develop in approximately 15 percent of patients after surgery. The most common sign that you have an incisional hernia is a bulge near your incision site. It is most noticeable when you stand up, cough, lift something heavy or strain your abdominal muscles.
  • Epigastric hernias are bulges in the upper abdominal wall, known as the epigastrium. The epigastrium is located above the bellybutton, but below the breastbone. While most epigastric hernias are small with only the abdomen lining breaking through the weak muscle tissue, larger epigastric hernias may develop where fatty tissue or stomach tissue pushes through the wall.

What causes abdominal hernias?

Causes and risk factors may vary based on the type of abdominal hernia, here are a few common ones:


  • Muscle weakness after surgery
  • Straining to urinate or have a bowel movement
  • Chronic coughing from conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder
  • Injury from lifting heavy objects or weights
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Being pregnant multiple times
  • Congenital defect that occurs in the womb and presents at birth
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Poor nutrition

Risk factors:

  • Older age
  • Family history of hernias
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Born prematurely with a low birth weight
  • Chronic constipation
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Chronic cough

How do you treat an abdominal hernia?

Like most hernias, abdominal hernias do not go away on their own and hernia repair surgery is almost always required. The good news is that most abdominal hernias can be repaired with minimally invasive surgery – which has a low complication rate – and you can usually get back to your normal routine quickly. If left untreated, however, an abdominal hernia can cause serious complications, such as a bowel obstruction (resulting in severe pain, nausea or constipation), or intestinal strangulation, if the trapped section of the intestines does not get enough blood.

Depending on the severity and type of hernia you have, there are some at-home treatment measures you can take to help relieve hernia pain until you can be treated by an experienced hernia surgeon. Here are some tips we recommend:

  • Avoid lifting heavy objects and other strenuous exercise or activities. These activities may result in increased pressure and strain that could worsen your hernia. Stick to light and low-impact exercises like walking or swimming. Remember to listen to your body; if an exercise or activity is causing discomfort, avoid it until you can seek treatment.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight can exacerbate hernia pain. If you are overweight and dealing with a hernia, shedding a few extra pounds may help you improve your symptoms and avoid certain complications such as strangulation.
  • Modify your diet. Diet can play a big role in controlling hernia symptoms. This is especially true for those with hiatal hernias. Avoiding foods high in acidity as well as others associated with heartburn and indigestion can also help. Additionally, eating smaller meals and avoiding foods that may cause constipation can also provide hernia relief.
  • Over-the-counter medications may relieve symptoms. If advised by your doctor, over-the-counter medications likeTylenol and ibuprofenmay be used temporarily to relieve mild pain and discomfort caused by a hernia.

Next Steps

It’s important to note that some hernias will require immediate surgery and should not be delayed. Your physician will be able to help determine best treatment plan for your specific case. Even if your abdominal hernia is causing only slight discomfort now, it’s important to seek medical attention right away.

Contact us today for an appointment

Selecting an experienced hernia surgeon with a high level of technical skill will significantly reduce the risk of recurrence or other complications. At the Hernia Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC), our hernia repair surgeons are experienced and highly skilled in open, laparoscopic and robotic hernia repair. Our surgeons also successfully treat patients who had initial hernia repair elsewhere but need revision surgery because their hernia has returned.

Our surgeons each perform between 15 to 30 hernia surgeries a month. This means that by choosing the Hernia Center of NGMC, you will see a hernia doctor who is highly experienced and will provide the highest quality hernia repair and surgical care possible. In fact, our hernia surgeons at the Hernia Center have been recognized by Surgical Review Corporation for their quality outcomes and expertise.

If you think you have a hernia, don’t delay getting treatment. Call 770-219-4040 today to speak to our care team about questions or to schedule an appointment.

About The Hernia Center of NGMC

At the Hernia Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, our surgeons are hernia specialists who are experienced and highly skilled in open, laparoscopic and robotic hernia repair. They will evaluate your case to determine which option is best for you. Each surgeon performs between 15 to 30 hernia surgeries a month. This means by choosing the Hernia Center of NGMC, you are getting hernia surgeons who are highly experienced and offer the highest quality surgical care possible. In fact, our hernia repair surgeons at the Hernia Center have been recognized by Surgical Review Corporation for their quality outcomes and expertise.