Abdominal hernias in adults

An abdominal hernia is a lump that happens when an organ or tissue pushes through a weak spot in the wall of your abdomen (tummy). A hernia may be present at birth or can develop gradually over time. Rarely, they can develop suddenly as a result of sudden force, such as lifting something heavy. They can occur in both men and women of any age but are more common in men.

Where you get hernias

The most common places for hernias are in your groin (inguinal or femoral hernias). They can also appear around your belly button area (umbilical hernia) or below your breastbone (epigastric hernias). Sometimes, they happen in areas where there is already a weakness, such as by previous scars (incisional hernias).

Symptoms of abdominal hernia

You may have no symptoms, but you may notice a lump or bulge in your groin or abdomen. The lump will come and go. 

Lumps may be more noticeable after coughing, straining (such as lifting something heavy), and when standing.

Often hernias do not cause pain but you may get some discomfort. 

If you get severe pain or vomiting with hernia, seek urgent medical advice. The hernia may have become stuck (strangulated).

Diagnosing an abdominal hernia

If you have a lump that you can see or feel in your tummy, you may have a hernia but there may be other causes. Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine your tummy. Sometimes, they will need to examine you when standing up as well as lying down. You are not likely to need any tests or scans to get a diagnosis.

Treating an abdominal hernia

If an abdominal hernia is small and not causing any symptoms, it may not need any treatment. If the hernia is large, causing discomfort or is limiting your ability to work or do activities of daily living, you may need surgery to repair your hernia. 

Hernia repair surgery — HealthInfo (external link)

If your hernia developed as the result of an accident, you may be able to get help from ACC.

Get the support you need — ACC (external link)

Preventing an abdominal hernia

Being overweight increases your risk of developing a hernia, so try to maintain a healthy weight.

Straining to pass poo can increase risk of developing a hernia, so try to avoid constipation

Sometimes a hernia can develop when you lift something heavy so you should:

  • always use good lifting technique
  • ask for help rather than lifting too much weight on your own.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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