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HealthInfo Canterbury

Overview of abdominal hernia

HerniaThis page is about abdominal hernias in adults. For hernias in children see Inguinal hernia in children. For hiatus hernias see Acid reflux, heartburn, indigestion (GORD).

An abdominal hernia is a lump that happens when an organ or tissue pushes through a weak spot in the wall of your abdomen (tummy).

A hernia may be present at birth or can develop gradually over time because of stress or strain on your abdominal wall. Most hernias develop as you get older. Rarely, they can develop suddenly as a result of sudden force, such as lifting something heavy.

Abdominal hernias can occur in both men and women of any age but are more common in men.

The most common places for hernias are in your groin (inguinal or femoral hernias). They can also appear around your belly button area (umbilical hernia) or below your breast bone (epigastric hernias). Sometimes they happen in areas where there is already a weakness, such as by previous scars (incisional hernias).

Sometimes you can see the lump when you stand up, but it disappears when you're lying down. Sometimes the lump may continue to stick out even when you're lying down. Some hernias don't cause any problems, except having a lump. Other hernias can ache or cause pain. Some people notice that their hernia is more uncomfortable if they have a persistent cough, are constipated, or perform heavy lifting.

If you think that you have a hernia, see your GP.


Occasionally hernias can strangulate. A strangulated hernia is when a bit of bowel (intestine) comes through the weak spot and gets stuck. This can cut off the blood supply to the intestine and causes a severely painful lump. This is an emergency. The part of the intestine which is starved of blood could die. If you have severe pain or vomiting see a doctor urgently.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical director, Surgery, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed January 2019.


Page reference: 558914

Review key: HIHER-19885