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Reviewed By: Dr. Michael Sawyer

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a defect / hole that occurs over time when fatty tissue or an organ sticks out through an opening in the tissue that normally contains it. Scroll to learn about the various types and locations of hernias:

Hiatal Hernia

Occurs in between chest cavity and abdomen. 

Epigastric Hernia

Occurs between the sternum and belly button.

Umbilical Hernia

Occurs near the belly button. 

Incisional Hernia

The location varies as it occurs at the site of a previous surgical cut. 

Inguinal Hernia

Commonly referred to as a groin hernia and can occur on the right side or left side or both sides. 

Femoral Hernia

Appears in the upper thigh or groin area.

Recurrent Hernia

Hernia comes back in the same location. 

Ventral Hernia

General term used to describe a hernia occurring on the front of the abdomen.

Spigelian Hernia

Also referred to as a lateral hernia, occurs near the oblique muscles.

Incarcerated Hernia

Where the tissue or intestine becomes trapped in the hernia sac and can’t be moved back into place.

Strangulated Hernia

When the blood supply is cut off from an incarcerated hernia. This is a medical emergency requiring immediate attention.

What causes a hernia?

In the simplest terms, hernias occur from a combination of internal pressure - such as straining - and a weakness in the muscle or fascia of the abdomen.

Hernias are often complicated by a variety of factors which may include any combination of the following:

  • Smoking
  • Previous surgery
  • Diabetes
  • Immune response
  • Obesity
  • Strenuous exercise such as heavy lifting
  • Constipation
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Genetics
  • Congenital – occurs at birth

Hernia Symptoms

Visible bulging
Redness at the site
Pain or discomfort with lifting, coughing, or sneezing

Am I at risk for a hernia?

Males and females are both at risk for developing a hernia, although anatomical differences play a role in how likely you are to develop a hernia.



Due to the extra tissue and space around the male reproductive organs, there's more area for a hernia to occur. As a result, approximately 1 in 4 (or 25%) of males are at risk for developing an inguinal hernia.1


Due to the shape of the female’s pelvis and the deeper location of the reproductive organs, women are more likely to present without a visible bulge. Females are more at risk for umbilical and incisional hernias due to the abdominal wall stretching during pregnancy.2

What can be mistaken for a hernia?

Statistics estimate that 15 out every 1000 people in the US will be diagnosed with a hernia,3 and over 1 million are surgically repaired each year.4 While relatively common, there remains a chance a healthcare provider may fail to diagnose the hernia as the following conditions can mimic hernia symptoms:

  • GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Diastasis recti – separation of abdominal muscles, which in some cases can be repaired without surgery
  • Athletic pubalgia – also known as a sports hernia
  • Endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or fibroids - in women these conditions can cause pelvic pain 

Diagnosing a Hernia

Hernias can only be diagnosed by a licensed healthcare provider during a visual inspection and a physical exam.

Hernia diagnosis based on physical exam is then confirmed by a provider-ordered imaging diagnostic test such as ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI. 

Can a hernia be diagnosed via telehealth? Not exactly, but there are healthcare providers who offer telehealth visits and can work with you on a diagnosis game plan. If you are interested in exploring hernia specialists outside your community, visit our surgeon finder for more information.



1. Jenkins JT, O'Dwyer PJ. Inguinal hernias. BMJ. 2008;336(7638):269-272. doi:10.1136/bmj.39450.428275.AD 

2. Nouh, T., Ali, F.S., Krause, K.J. et al. Ventral hernia recurrence in women of childbearing age: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Hernia 22, 1067–1075 (2018).

3. Dabbas N, Adams K, Pearson K, Royle G. Frequency of abdominal wall hernias: is classical teaching out of date?. JRSM Short Rep. 2011;2(1):5. Published 2011 Jan 19. doi:10.1258/shorts.2010.010071 

4. Retrieved from 

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