A hernia is a bulge caused by an internal part of the body, such as a part of the bowel, pushing through a weakness in the muscle or tissue wall.

Usually your muscles hold your intestines and organs in place. But after an operation, the area around the operation scar or stoma may become weaker and a hernia can develop.

Signs and symptoms of a hernia

The main symptom of a hernia is an ache or bulge in the tummy area (abdomen) or under the skin around a stoma. The bulge may not always be there but may appear when you cough, sneeze or strain your abdominal muscles. Your doctor will examine you by feeling around the area. They may also arrange a CT (computerised tomography) or ultrasound scan to give a picture of the hernia.

Smoking can increase the risk of a hernia developing. People who are overweight are also more likely to develop a hernia. Anything that increases the pressure inside your abdomen such as lifting heavy objects or straining can also increase your risk. You can reduce your risk of developing a hernia by:

  • keeping to a healthy weight for your height or losing weight if you are overweight
  • not smoking
  • following a healthy, balanced diet
  • strengthening your abdominal muscles with regular moderate exercise such as walking, yoga, or gentle aerobics and stretching exercises
  • not straining on the toilet and avoiding constipation
  • learning how to lift heavy objects safely, so that your arm and leg muscles take the strain.

Hernias are often treated with an operation to repair the tissue wall. The operation is usually done through one or more small cuts in the abdomen. This is called laparoscopic or keyhole surgery.

If an operation isn’t right for you, there are specially designed hernia support garments available. It’s important that the size and fit are correct; so ask your doctor, specialist nurse or stoma care nurse for advice.

If a hernia is very small and not causing any problems, you might not need treatment but may be advised about lifestyle changes that could help.