General Surgeon Samuel Yelverton, MD, explains what to look for.

Chances are, you have heard the phrase, “Don’t have a hernia,” when someone gets upset over something small. As it turns out, hernias can be both big and small, can develop into serious health issues, and fixing them is one of the most common surgeries performed by board-certified general surgeon Samuel Yelverton (right), MD, at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center.

What Causes a Hernia?

A hernia happens when an internal organ pushes through a defect or weak spot in the abdominal wall. It can push through a previous surgical incision (an incisional hernia), a person’s belly button (umbilical hernia) or the groin (inguinal and femoral hernias). Hernias cause pain, discomfort, nausea and vomiting, among other symptoms.

Dr. Yelverton says hernias can be present at birth (a genetic defect) or result from an activity that stresses the abdominal wall, such as coughing or straining.

How Does a Hernia Look and Feel?

Most people describe the start of a hernia as a bulge or a bump, either in the groin, through a previous incision or near the belly button.

“It is mainly a small bump, but they can get as big as or have abdominal wall disfiguration, when they become the larger hernias,” says Dr. Yelverton. He added that a hiatal hernia, where the stomach bulges through the muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest, can “present as reflux [heartburn], chest pain, things like that.”

How Serious Is a Hernia?

woman with herniaHernias can become serious health issues if left untreated, and can lead to sepsis and severe inflammation of the intestines. Dr. Yelverton recommends addressing them early “so that we can avoid the serious complications that can happen, which can lead to emergency general surgery, larger incisions, and longer hospital stays.”

Hernia Diagnosis and Treatment

A physical exam is the most common way for a doctor to diagnose a hernia, though Dr. Yelverton says ultrasounds and CT scans are used as well. There are non-operative treatments, but surgery is often recommended because the hernia is at risk of getting bigger. “It’s much easier to fix them when they’re smaller than when they’re bigger,” he says. For minor hernias, robotic surgery is the preferred technique, as it creates smaller incisions and can lessen blood loss, pain and recovery time. Big, complex abdominal wall hernias may still require open surgeries, the doctor says.

Hernia Risk

Both men and women, at any age, can have a hernia. Dr. Yelverton says he has seen hernias in infants, teenagers, adults and the elderly — and he had two himself when he was a child.

Dr. Yelverton says his patients not only feel the results, but see them too. “People are happy because they can see the result, versus gallbladder or colon cancer, where you don’t really see any difference,” he says. “A hernia, you have a big bulge. You fix it and after surgery, you wake up, and you no longer have that bulge. You no longer have that discomfort, the nausea and the pain.”

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Individual results may vary. There are risks associated with any surgical procedure. Talk with your doctor about these risks to find out if robotic surgery is right for you.