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Ventral Hernia


What is a ventral hernia?

A ventral hernia is a bulge through an abnormal opening in the wall of your abdominal muscles. The bulge is often part of your intestine, but it may also be tissue or fat. There are three common types of ventral hernias. An incisional hernia occurs where you have had a surgical cut. An epigastric hernia occurs above your belly button. A spigelian hernia occurs on the side of your abdomen.

What causes a ventral hernia?

You may get a ventral hernia when the muscles of your abdomen become weak. The following can weaken your abdomen muscles:

  • Previous surgeries: You may get a hernia along the incision where a previous surgery was done. If your surgical wound becomes infected, the area is more likely to become weak. You may also get a hernia next to a stoma. A stoma is an opening in your abdomen that drains stool from your bowels.
  • Muscle strain: Heavy lifting and pregnancy can strain the muscles in your abdomen.

What increases my risk for a ventral hernia?

  • Aging: The muscles in your abdomen get thinner and weaker as you get older.
  • Medical conditions: The muscles of your abdomen may weaken if you have diabetes, lung disease, or cancer. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about other conditions that may cause weak abdomen muscles.
  • Weight: Being overweight or obese may put too much strain on your muscles and make them weak. You may also have weak abdomen muscles if you lose a lot of weight very quickly. Your muscles may also become weak if you have poor nutrition.
  • Medicine: Medicines, such as steroids, may increase your risk for a ventral hernia.

What are the signs and symptoms of a ventral hernia?

You may have one or more of the following:

  • Swelling or a soft bulge in your abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Pain in your abdomen or back
  • Trouble standing up straight
  • Constipation
  • Urinating very little or not at all

How is a ventral hernia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will look and feel for a bulge in your abdomen. He may ask you to lie down with your legs bent. He may also ask you to cough while standing up. You may need any of the following:

  • Abdominal ultrasound: This test is done so caregivers can see the tissues and organs of your abdomen. Gel will be put on your abdomen and a small sensor will be moved across your abdomen. The sensor uses sound waves to send pictures of your abdomen to a TV-like screen.
  • CT scan: A special x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your abdomen. A CT scan may help your healthcare provider see if you have a hernia, how big it is, and what is causing it. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken. The dye may help your healthcare provider see the pictures better. People who are allergic to shellfish (lobster, crab, or shrimp) may be allergic to some dyes. Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to shellfish or have any other allergies.

How is a ventral hernia treated?

  • Hernia reduction: Your healthcare provider may be able to push your hernia back into your abdomen without surgery. This is called reducing your hernia.
  • Laparoscopic surgery: During laparoscopic surgery, small incisions are made in your abdomen. Your healthcare provider inserts a scope and other tools through these cuts to repair your hernia. A scope is a long, bendable tube with a camera on the end. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.
  • Open surgery: During open surgery, your healthcare provider will make an incision in your abdomen to fix your hernia. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on open surgery.

What are the risks of a ventral hernia?

  • Your abdomen may swell if your healthcare provider pushed your hernia back into your abdomen. If you have surgery, you may get a hernia again and need another surgery. You may have long-term pain or get a seroma. A seroma is a pocket of fluid that may need to be removed using a needle. You may get an infection. Scars may form inside your body, causing tissue or organs to stick together. Your bowel may be blocked and you may be unable to have a bowel movement. Your bowel or other organs may get damaged. Blood vessels may be cut during surgery, causing you to bleed too much. You may get a serious infection in your blood. You may get an abnormal opening from your bowel to your skin.
  • Without treatment, your hernia may become bigger or infected. It may change your posture and make you stoop over. Your pain may get worse. Part of your bowel may become trapped or twisted and become blocked. You may bleed inside your abdomen. You may get a life-threatening infection.

How can I prevent another ventral hernia?

Weight loss may help prevent a ventral hernia if you are overweight or obese. Ask your healthcare provider for a diet plan that is right for you. Try not to strain when you cough or have a bowel movement. After surgery, do the following to prevent another hernia:

  • Do not lift heavy objects until your healthcare provider says it is okay.
  • You may need to wear a support belt or girdle. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about support clothing.
  • Your healthcare provider may suggest that you do exercises to strengthen your abdomen. Swimming and walking may also help. Ask your healthcare provider for an exercise plan. Do not exercise more than your healthcare provider says is okay.
  • Ask your healthcare provider when it is okay to return to your normal daily activities.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have vomited.
  • You are constipated.
  • You are urinating very little or not at all.
  • After surgery, you have swelling, bleeding, or pus from or near your wound.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your abdomen is suddenly very hard.
  • You have pain in your abdomen or back that does not go away, even after you take pain medicine.
  • You have bleeding from your wound that does not stop.
  • You have sudden difficulty breathing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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