A hernia occurs when a portion of tissue in your body bulges into or penetrates a weakened muscle area. Theoretically, hernias can happen anywhere in your body, but most occur in the abdomen between the rib cage and the groin.
There are several types of hernias:
- Hiatus or diaphragmatic hernias occur when a piece of your stomach protrudes through the diaphragm (the muscle that separates the chest region from the abdominal area) via the opening through which the esophagus (food tube) passes into the stomach. Congenital diaphragmatic hernias occur in a small percentage of newborn babies and present a medical emergency. The organs that are normally found in the abdomen, push up and through the diaphragm, crowding the lungs, and may cause breathing problems.
- Inguinal or groin hernias occur when part of the abdominal contents (usually part of the intestine or a piece of bowel) protrudes into the groin area. Although they are often associated with older adults, inguinal hernias occur in as many as 5% of full-term babies.
- Umbilical hernias are similar to inguinal hernias but are found in the area of the umbilicus (the navel or belly button area).
- Incisional hernias occur when a piece of intestine protrudes through a weakness in the abdominal wall in an area where surgery has been performed.
- Femoral hernias occur when a piece of intestine protrudes though the passage that is normally used by large blood vessels as they pass between the abdomen and leg.
- Paraesophageal hernias are uncommon, but can be life threatening because in some cases they can cause the entire stomach to slip into the chest cavity.