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Overview of abdominal hernia

Tirohanga whānui ki te whaturama rerekē


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 that is starved of blood could die. If you have severe pain or vomiting, see a doctor urgently.

This 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. 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 breastbone (epigastric hernias). Sometimes, they happen in areas where there is already a weakness, such as by previous scars (incisional hernias).

Illustration showing a person lifting a box with the correct lifting technique, keeping their back straight

Reducing your risk of having an abdominal hernia

Diagnosing an abdominal hernia

If you have a lump that you can see or feel in your tummy, you may have a hernia but there may be other causes. Your general practice team will ask about your symptoms and examine your tummy. Sometimes, they will need to examine you when standing up as well as lying down. You're not likely to need any tests or scans to get a diagnosis.

Treating an abdominal hernia

If an abdominal hernia is small and not causing any symptoms, it may not need any treatment. If the hernia is large, causing discomfort or is limiting your ability to work or do activities of daily living, you may need surgery to repair your hernia. For more information see Hernia repair surgery.

If your hernia developed as the result of an accident, you may be able to get help from ACC.

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On the next page: Hernia repair surgery

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed August 2022.


Page reference: 558914

Review key: HIHER-19885