Do women get hernias, too?

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Nov. 01, 2019

Hernias are often perceived as a man’s problem, but women get them, too.

A hernia occurs when a portion of an organ (most commonly the small intestine) pushes through a weakness in the wall of a muscle or tissue that holds it in place. This creates a bulge that can be seen and felt. The action is similar to an inner tube that has pushed its way through a hole in a tire. A hernia can cause pain and swelling, which may become more prevalent during physical activity.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, 75 to 80 percent of all hernias are inguinal or femoral. Both are due to weakened muscles that may have been present since birth, or are associated with aging and repeated strains on the abdominal and groin areas. Such strain may come from physical exertion, obesity, pregnancy, frequent coughing, or straining due to constipation.

Inguinal is the most common type of hernia in which part of the intestine protrudes through an opening in the lower abdomen. Inguinal hernias are more prevalent in men due to their anatomy. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 25 percent of men and 2 percent of women will develop an inguinal hernia in their lifetimes.

A femoral hernia occurs when a portion of the intestine pokes through a weakened area in the upper thigh muscle, just under the groin. It is far less common than an inguinal hernia, and occurs most often in older women. Other types of hernias include the following:

Umbilical–Part of the intestine passes through the abdominal wall near the belly button. It is most common in newborns and infants.

Incisional–Part of the intestine bulges through the site of a surgical incision.

Hiatal–A portion of the stomach protrudes upward into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm. It is most common in people age 50 or older or who are obese.

According to the Mayo Clinic, abdominal hernias are common but not necessarily dangerous. However, a hernia does not usually get better on its own. In rare circumstances, it can lead to life-threatening complications. Surgery is usually recommended for a hernia that is painful or becoming larger.

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