What does a hernia look and feel like?

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2024

You may have heard someone talk about having a hernia, but would you recognize a hernia if you had one? Knowing how a hernia looks and feels can help you seek treatment if you develop one.

When you think about hernias, the types that affect the groin or the belly button may be the first thing to come to mind, but there are actually multiple types of hernia. Though they can be located in different parts of the body, hernias all share one common indicator—a bulge. Keep reading to learn more.

What a hernia looks like

A hernia occurs when an organ or tissue bulges through a weakened part of muscle. Typically, this happens when pressure is placed on an organ or tissue—such as from straining, heavy lifting or muscle overuse—in an area where the muscle wall is already weakened.

This causes the insides to bulge outward, and depending on where the hernia is located, the bulge may be visible outside the body. 

The majority of hernias affect the groin. Inguinal hernias are most common and typically affect men, while women may experience femoral hernias in the upper thigh near the groin. 

Other types of hernias include:

  • Incisional, which occur around a scar, often following surgery
  • Umbilical, which are around the belly button
  • Ventral, which occur in the middle of the abdomen

Some symptoms of a hernia are dependent on the type of hernia, but a bulge is common with all types, though not always visible. The bulge may be more visible or palpable when you cough, laugh, sneeze, cry or otherwise strain in some way.

What a hernia feels like

In many cases, you may not feel a small hernia at all. If you do have symptoms related to a hernia, you may experience a number of different sensations, including a mild feeling of discomfort, pressure or even a sharp pain when the hernia pushes through the muscle wall. 

“Feelable” symptoms are more common with some types of hernias than others. Inguinal hernias, for example, often cause mild to severe pain in the area of the hernia that worsens with certain activities. Men who have inguinal hernias may also experience pressure or a tugging feeling in the scrotum or testicles, while women may feel a burning sensation in the groin. 

Some level of discomfort is common with even mild hernias, but certain symptoms are a sign that emergency care is needed. If a hernia bulge softens or can’t be pushed back into the skin, you experience intense pain or you have unrelenting gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting or constipation, seek prompt medical attention.

What to do if you think you have a hernia

If you notice a bulge under the skin or experience other symptoms of a hernia, check in with your primary care provider. Your provider will ask a series of questions about what you’re experiencing and perform a physical exam, focusing on the area of the suspected hernia. In some cases, imaging scans may be used to confirm a hernia.

If you’re diagnosed with a hernia, you’ll be referred to a hernia specialist. Seeking care from a medical team that specializes in hernia diagnosis and treatment, like the team at the Hernia Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, gives you access to the latest and most advanced care. 

When you’re seen by one of our hernia specialists, we’ll review the specifics of your case and your symptoms to determine how best to treat the hernia. If surgery is needed, minimally invasive procedures such as laparoscopic or robotic hernia repair may be an option.

The bottom line? If you’re experiencing something that looks or feels like a hernia, there’s no need to grin and bear it. Help is available to repair the hernia and get you back to your best.

Next steps

As Georgia’s first accredited Hernia Surgery Center of Excellence, the Hernia Center of NGMCoffers access to hernia specialists and the most advanced robotic and minimally invasive surgical techniques for hernia repair. Call 770-219-4040 to learn more or schedule an appointment.