Hernias often look like a bulge or swelling under the skin. There are many different types of hernia. Most of the time, they are not serious, but some hernias require surgery.

A hernia occurs when part of an internal organ pushes through the muscle or tissue of its normal location. Hernias can be the result of weak muscles or an increase in pressure inside the body.

This article will look at several different types of hernia. It will explore their appearance and symptoms and discuss surgical and at-home treatment options.

image depicting an umbilical hernia shown externally as a bulge in the belly button and internally as a part of intestine pushing through muscleShare on Pinterest
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Umbilical hernias happen when some of the intestine pushes through the abdominal muscles into the belly button. They are common in infants.

Appearance

People with umbilical hernias may notice:

  • a soft bulge on or around the belly button
  • flushed skin or a small sore around bigger umbilical hernias

Symptoms

Umbilical hernias often do not produce symptoms. Some people may experience slight pain at the site of the hernia, however.

Umbilical hernias are not generally serious. They are often so small that a person is not even aware they have one.

Treatment options

Umbilical hernias that are small and painless do not require surgical treatment. However, umbilical hernias that cause symptoms may require surgery.

Many infant umbilical hernias close on their own by ages 3–4.

Learn more about umbilical hernias here.

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A hiatal hernia happens when part of the stomach or other abdominal tissue slides up into the middle of the chest through the hiatus. The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm, the muscular wall separating the chest cavity from the abdomen.

Appearance

Hiatal hernias have no outward appearance. They are only visible through an X-ray or other imaging, such as an endoscopy or barium swallow.

Symptoms

Most hiatal hernias do not cause symptoms. However, some people may experience the following:

  • vague abdominal discomfort
  • heartburn or reflux
  • pain with eating or swallowing

Treatment options

If a hiatal hernia is not causing symptoms, it will not require treatment.

For severe cases of uncontrolled reflux or pain, surgical repair of the hernia may be necessary.

Management of hiatal hernias involves controlling the associated symptoms. This can often consist of managing heartburn or reflux or changing certain behavioral habits.

Learn more about hiatal hernias here.

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Inguinal hernias are one of the most common abdominal wall hernias. They can occur in females and males.

An inguinal hernia occurs when fatty tissue or a small loop of the intestine bulges out through the inguinal canal into the groin. It can occur at birth, but common risk factors include:

Appearance

The hernia will look like a bulge or bump in the scrotum or groin region. Standing or bearing down with force will often make the bulge more noticeable.

The bulge typically takes time to appear, but it can form suddenly after coughing, lifting heavy weights, straining, bending, or laughing.

Symptoms

One-third of people will have no symptoms. However, symptoms may appear as:

  • swelling
  • a heavy or tugging sensation in the hernia’s location
  • pain or discomfort with coughing, exercising, or going to the bathroom

If pain occurs, it will often get worse throughout the day and improve when a person is lying down.

Treatment options

The only cure for an inguinal hernia is surgery.

Since the risk of hernia-related emergencies is low, a person can wait to start the hernia repair when symptoms develop. Even so, approximately 70% of people with few or no symptoms will need surgery within 5 years.

Learn more about inguinal hernias here.

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Femoral hernias are one of the most serious types of hernia. They happen when tissue or part of the bowel slides through a weak muscle wall into the femoral canal at the top of the inner thigh or groin.

These types of hernias are less common, representing 3% of all hernias.

Appearance

A femoral hernia looks like a lump in the groin area. Smaller ones are not always visible. Large hernias in this region are more easily noticeable as a bulge close to the upper thigh in the groin area, or just in front of the hip.

There may be flushed skin around the hernia.

Symptoms

A femoral hernia can hurt during heavy lifting or activities that involve straining.

The pain sometimes only affects the upper thigh, but it can affect the whole abdomen and sometimes even the hip. It can feel like a dull, sharp, or even throbbing pain.

Treatment options

A person who develops a new lump or bump in the groin or inner thigh area should consult a doctor.

The treatment for femoral hernia is always surgery.

Learn more about femoral hernias here.

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Epigastric hernias are relatively common. Typically, they are not serious.

Epigastric hernias occur between the lower part of the rib cage and the belly button.

These types of hernias typically contain fatty tissue rather than part of the bowel.

Appearance

An epigastric hernia appears as a slight bulge. It becomes more noticeable when a person is straining the abdominal muscles while exercising or lifting heavy objects. The bulge tends to disappear after a person relaxes the muscles or lies down.

Epigastric hernias can appear during imaging tests for other medical conditions.

Symptoms

Most epigastric hernias cause no symptoms.

Treatment options

Epigastric hernias need surgery when they are causing a person discomfort.

However, a small epigastric hernia that is not causing any symptoms may not require any treatment at all.

Learn more about epigastric hernias here.

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Incisional hernias can occur in 10–15% of people who have had any type of abdominal surgical incision. This type of hernia may develop immediately or months to years after the surgery.

Appearance

A person with an incisional hernia may notice:

  • a bulge or swelling at or near the site of the surgical incision
  • open sores or flushed skin over the hernia
  • hernia growth after coughing and straining of any kind

On rare occasions, a person may notice internal tissues, intestines, and other organs poking out from the incision.

Symptoms

Symptoms of incisional hernias include:

  • pain that gets worse with coughing or straining
  • tenderness or a feeling of pressure at the incision site

Treatment options

A person should contact a doctor:

  • for worsening pain
  • if they cannot push the hernia back into the belly
  • if the hernia gets larger

In most cases, surgery is the best treatment option for incisional hernias.

If the symptoms are not severe or the hernia is small, a person can manage incisional hernias with watchful waiting.

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A spigelian hernia is a rare type of hernia. It happens when part of the bowel pokes through the side of an abdominal muscle.

It more commonly affects men over the age of 50.

Appearance

A spigelian hernia can look like a bump next to or under the belly button.

Symptoms

Spigelian hernias do not always cause symptoms. However, some people may experience:

  • pain at the site of the hernia
  • difficulty going to the bathroom

Treatment options

Many doctors will recommend surgery to treat a spigelian hernia.

Learn more about spigelian hernias here.

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Muscle hernias happen when the muscle pokes through its lining. They often occur in the leg.

They can happen as a result of sports injuries.

Appearance

Muscle hernias often occur between the knee and the ankle. They can appear as one or multiple lumps.

Symptoms

Some muscle hernias are asymptomatic. However, some people may notice:

  • swelling in the belly or leg
  • pain, cramps, or numbness at the site of the swelling

Treatment options

If a muscle hernia happens due to trauma or injury, it can go away on its own. Some people may find that rest and compressions can help recovery.

If the hernia is recurring or congenital, meaning a person has it from birth, doctors may recommend surgery.

Hernias often require surgery to completely remove them. In many cases, they are not serious.

However, a person should seek emergency treatment if the following symptoms occur alongside a hernia:

  • severe pain
  • swelling or flushed skin at the site of the hernia
  • fever
  • fast growth of the hernia
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • bloating

Hernias can also get bigger if a person does not seek treatment.

Strangulated hernias

If the wall that the hernia protrudes through closes, a strangulated hernia can occur. This stops the bowel from receiving blood flow and requires immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of a strangulated hernia include:

Learn more about strangulated hernias here.

There are many different types of hernias. They can appear as lumps under the skin, but many are completely asymptomatic.

If pain happens as a result of a hernia, a person should seek immediate medical attention. Otherwise, they risk infections or strangulated hernias.