(Abdominal Hernia; Incisional Hernia; Spigelian Hernia; Epigastric Hernia)
An abdominal hernia is the pushing through of soft tissue through the abdominal wall. A ventral hernia is a hernia that develops in the front of the abdomen. Types of ventral hernias include:
- Incisional hernia—develops along a previous surgical incision
- Epigastric hernia—develops along the upper abdominal wall below the chest
- Spigelian hernia—develops along the side of the abdominal wall (rare)
Some hernias may not need treatment. Others can require surgery. Some hernias can be serious and require medical attention right away.
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The abdominal wall covers the front of the body from the ribs to the pelvis. It normally keeps abdominal tissue in place. When the abdominal wall tears or weakens, tissue pushes out. This creates a hernia. The tissue pushed through can be loops of intestine, fat, or other tissue. The weakness may be caused by:
- Increased abdominal pressure
- Surgery or injury to the abdomen
Weak spots may be present at birth. Others may develop later in life from general weakness, injury, or surgery.
Older adults are at increased risk.
Other factors that may increase the chances of a ventral hernia:
- Heavy lifting
- Straining during bowel movements
- Excess body weight
- Previous abdominal surgery
- Surgical wound infection
Hernias produce a bulge under the skin. It may not cause any other symptoms. Sometimes you may notice pain that increases during the day. Activities that may cause pain include:
- Straining during bowel movements or urination
- Heavy lifting
- Sitting or standing for long periods of time
Sometimes a loop of intestine becomes trapped in the abdominal wall. This may lead to a blockage of the intestine. Strangulation can also occur if the hernia is slowing or blocking blood flow. Symptoms of a strangulated hernia include:
- Continuous, severe pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- High fever
- Increased sweating
A strangulated hernia is a medical emergency and requires immediate surgery.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Imaging tests may include:
Many hernias enlarge over time. A hernia may be easily pushed back in, without causing any symptoms. In this case, your doctor may choose to watch it. Otherwise, surgery is usually performed to fix the weakened area of the abdominal wall.
Hernias are repaired with surgery. During the surgery, the displaced organs are put back into place. The damaged wall is repaired. A piece of mesh may also be placed over the area to provide extra support.
To help reduce the chances of a ventral hernia:
- Learn proper lifting techniques.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
American College of Gastroenterology
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Association of General Surgeons
Hernias of the abdominal wall. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/acute-abdomen-and-surgical-gastroenterology/hernias-of-the-abdominal-wall. Updated January 2017. Accessed March 23, 2018.
Laparoscopic ventral hernia repair from SAGES. Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.sages.org/publications/patient-information/patient-information-for-laparoscopic-ventral-hernia-repair-from-sages. Accessed March 23, 2018.
Mittal T, Kumar V, Khullar R, et al. Diagnosis and management of Spigelian hernia: areview of literature and our experience. J Minim Access Surg. 2008;4(4):95-98.
Ventral hernia. Dartmouth-Hitchcock website. Available at: http://www.dartmouth-hitchcock.org/hernia/ventral_hernia.html. Accessed March 23, 2018.
Ventral hernia. UCSF Health website. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/ventral_hernia. Accessed March 23, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 5/1/2014