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Reviewed By: Dr. Michael Sawyer

What causes a hernia?

In the simplest terms, hernias occur from a combination of internal pressure (like from straining) and weakness/opening 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 lifting too heavy
  • 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, 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 While relatively common, and over 1 million are repaired each year4, there remains a chance a healthcare provider may fail to diagnosis the hernia as the following conditions may mimic the symptoms:


  • GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Diastasis recti – separation of abdominal muscles, and in some cases can be repaired without surgery
  • Athletic pubalgia – also known as a sports hernia
  • In women pelvic pain may be caused by endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or fibroids

Diagnosing a Hernia

Hernias can only be diagnosed by a licensed health care provider during a visual inspection and a physical exam. Males are probably familiar with the phrase “turn and cough.”

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

Can a hernia be diagnosed via telehealth? Thanks to recent technological enhancements, it is possible. 


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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