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Ventral Hernia

Alternative names: Incisional Hernia, Umbilical Hernia

What is a ventral hernia?
What are the signs of a ventral hernia?
What causes a ventral hernia?
How does my doctor tell if I have a ventral hernia?
How is a ventral hernia treated?

What is a ventral hernia?

A hernia happens when the muscles inside a person's abdomen (belly) weaken in one spot, allowing a loop of intestine or abdominal tissue to push through the muscle layer.

A ventral hernia is called an incisional hernia if it occurs at the site of a surgical scar. Up to one-third of all patients who have had open abdominal surgery will develop a ventral hernia at their incision. An umbilical hernia is a hernia that occurs at the navel or belly button. This can happen with or without a prior incision.

What are the signs of a ventral hernia?

In some cases, a ventral hernia causes no discomfort, and the first sign of the hernia is a bulge under the skin. A ventral hernia may cause pain when a person:

  • Lifts heavy objects
  • Coughs
  • Strains during a bowel movement, or when urinating
  • Stands or sits for a long time

If a loop of intestine gets tightly trapped in the tear in the muscle layer, the supply of blood to the intestines can become cut off. This is called strangulation, and can cause:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

Strangulation is a medical emergency, and requires a doctor's immediate attention.

What causes a ventral hernia?

Open abdominal surgery can weaken a person's abdominal muscles at the place where the surgeon made an incision. Factors that might contribute to a ventral hernia include:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Continuous coughing
  • Straining when having a bowel movement or urinating
  • Severe vomiting
  • Being overweight
  • Pregnancy
  • An infection at the surgical incision
  • Diabetes
  • Steroid use

How does my doctor tell if I have a ventral hernia?

Your doctor will want to examine the area where you might have a ventral hernia. As coughing will often make a hernia expand, your doctor may ask you to cough while he or she feels the area of the suspected hernia.

In some cases, a doctor will use a CT (computed tomography) scan to make images of the abdomen to help diagnose a ventral hernia.

How is a ventral hernia treated?

Because a hernia will not get better on its own, and can worsen (get larger) over time, a doctor may recommend that a ventral hernia be repaired through surgery. The Hernia Surgery Center offers a number of hernia repair options. We will carefully evaluate your hernia before recommending a type of surgery.

  • In minimally-invasive hernia repair, a surgeon uses a laparoscope—a thin tube with a tiny video camera at its tip—small tools, and a small piece of plastic mesh to fix a hernia. Some patients recover more quickly from minimally-invasive hernia repair than they do from open hernia repair. It may cause less pain than open hernia repair. Not all patients with ventral hernias are candidates for minimally-invasive hernia repair.
  • In open hernia repair, a surgeon makes an incision in the patient's abdomen, and pushes the bulging tissue or organ back where they belong. Often the surgeon uses a small piece of plastic mesh to repair the defect in the muscle tissue.
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