Q. How can I tell whether I have a hernia?
A. Abdominal hernias, which occur when an organ, tissue, or fat pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal wall or groin area, usually result in a noticeable lump under the skin, which is sometimes the only symptom.
Groin hernias occur where the upper body and groin meet and are more common in men than in women. Hernias often have no known cause, but they can occur when you lift something heavy, strain while using the toilet, or perform any activity that increases pressure inside the stomach.
A person with a hernia may be able to push the bulge back into the abdomen or groin. But straining of any kind—such as coughing or having a bowel movement—can make it pop out again.
The bulge site may eventually become slightly painful. Untreated hernias may grow, become more painful, and result in serious complications, such as a strangulated hernia, which occurs when the intestine becomes trapped and loses its blood supply. Hernias rarely disappear on their own, and surgery may be warranted.
Another type of hernia is a hiatal hernia, in which the top of the stomach bulges through an opening in the diaphragm. You may have no symptoms, or you may experience acid reflux. In this case, try modifying your diet, avoiding alcohol, and losing weight. If these tweaks or antacid medications don’t help, talk to your doctor about a surgical fix.
Laurie Saloman, M.S., is a health writer with more than 20 years of experience working for both consumer and doctor-focused publications. She’s a graduate of Brandeis University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and lives in New Jersey with her family.