A ventral hernia, also known as an abdominal hernia, occurs when tissue protrudes through the abdomen wall due to a gap or weakness.

Hernias can develop in several places in the body, and doctors name them according to where they occur. For example, ventral refers to the abdomen, and a femoral hernia develops in the upper thigh.

Approximately 350,000 ventral hernia repairs take place in the United States every year. Ventral hernias can occur on any area of the abdomen wall.

In this article, we examine the types of ventral hernias. We look at the symptoms and causes of a ventral hernia and how doctors treat it.

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There are several different types of ventral hernia, including:

Umbilical hernia

An umbilical hernia is the second most common type of hernia in adults. It is a lump that occurs at the belly button. This lump is often painless and may grow or shrink.

Umbilical hernias are common in infants, especially premature babies.

Incisional hernia

An incisional hernia occurs on a surgical scar in the abdomen. Incisional hernias may arise if the abdominal wall does not close correctly following surgery.

This type of hernia may occur in 15–20% of people who have laparoscopic abdominal surgical procedures with abdominal wall incisions.

Epigastric hernia

An epigastric hernia is a type of hernia that develops in the upper area of the abdomen just below the breastbone. As with other ventral hernias, it may consist of fatty tissue. Or, if it is large, it may include the tissue of the abdominal wall and intestines.

Parastomal hernia

A parastomal hernia occurs when a person has a stoma.

A stoma is an opening in the abdomen that surgeons create to divert urine or feces. A person may receive this surgery if they have bowel problems such as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.

A parastomal hernia occurs at or near the site of a stoma.

Spigelian hernia

A spigelian hernia occurs between the layers of abdominal muscles in an area called the spigelian fascia. A spigelian hernia is typically slit-like, and often occurs in the lower abdomen toward the side of the body.

As with other hernias, the intestines may get caught in a spigelian hernia, leading to decreased bowel function.

All hernias are due to a weakness or hole in the abdominal wall.

The causes of ventral hernias depend on the type or location. For example, an incisional hernia may occur after a person has abdominal surgery. If the abdominal wall does not heal correctly, a hernia may develop.

Some hernias in infants may be due to weakness in the abdominal wall at birth.

Certain factors increase a person’s risk of developing a ventral hernia. Any factor that puts stress on the abdominal wall can increase the risk of a hernia.

Some of these risk factors include:

Occasionally, a ventral hernia may present as a painless lump, or a person may not develop any symptoms.

Some people may feel sharp pain when they have a ventral hernia. The pain may worsen when they perform certain activities, such as heavy lifting or straining during a bowel movement.

A ventral hernia may also cause nausea and vomiting.

Hernias may reoccur after surgery. A 2016 study states that a person who has a bulge with their hernia is more likely to experience hernia reoccurrence after repair surgery.

During surgery, a doctor may use a mesh implant to strengthen the site of the hernia. A mesh infection may occur following this procedure. This type of infection would require a second operation.

Another possible complication is an incarcerated hernia, where part of the intestine or tissue becomes trapped inside the hernia. This can cause blood supply problems or block the intestines.

Additionally, hernia strangulation may occur, which stops blood from entering the intestine. This may result in severe pain and intestinal problems, including nausea, vomiting, and constipation due to a bowel obstruction. There is also a risk of sepsis. A person may require emergency surgery to restore intestine function.

A doctor can typically diagnose a hernia with a physical examination. They may ask a person about bowel movements, whether they have any abdominal pain, and about other symptoms such as fever, vomiting, and rapid heart rate.

A doctor may also feel for a lump and ask a person to stand up or cough during the assessment.

If a doctor suspects a ventral hernia, they may order imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI scan.

A person with a ventral hernia typically requires abdominal wall repair surgery. If there are any complications, a surgeon may perform emergency surgery.

The three types of surgery to treat hernias are:

  • Open hernia repair: This is where a surgeon makes a larger incision in the location of the hernia. They repair and push the tissue back to its correct place before closing the incision. The placement of mesh in the area may reduce the risk of hernia reoccurrence.
  • Laparoscopic surgery: This involves several small incisions in the abdomen rather than one large one. The surgeon performs the surgery using a tube-like instrument with a small lens for viewing. They may use a mesh material to strengthen the area.
  • Robotic hernia repair: This is the same as laparoscopic surgery, apart from the surgeon uses a console to perform the procedure.

The latter two surgeries may reduce the risk of infection and postsurgery pain due to the smaller incisions. They also result in smaller scars.

If the hernia is small and does not cause significant pain, and a doctor can push the contents of the hernia back into the abdominal cavity, a person may not need surgery right away. A doctor may recommend watchful waiting in certain circumstances.

However, if a person does not have surgery, the hernia may grow. This could lead to complications and make it more difficult for a surgeon to operate.

The outlook for a person with a ventral hernia is good if they contact a doctor about it as soon as possible.

Complications are more likely in people who need emergency surgery involving a bowel resection — in which the surgeon removes part of the bowel — or if a wound becomes infected. Other possible complications include breathing problems after surgery and a recurrence of the hernia.

Receiving immediate treatment for these complications can help prevent a life threatening situation.

Ventral hernias occur in the abdominal area. They develop as a result of weaknesses or holes in the abdominal wall.

There are various types of ventral hernia. Doctors define them based on the hernia’s location in the abdomen.

Doctors typically treat ventral hernias with surgery. It is important to note that there is a risk that the ventral hernia may reoccur after surgery.

If a person does not seek medical help, their hernia may grow and worsen over time.