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Ventral Hernia

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What is a ventral hernia?

A ventral hernia is a bulging of organs or abdominal tissue through a weak spot or opening in the abdominal wall. The abdominal wall is made up of fat and muscle. It holds the organs in place.

What are the types of ventral hernias?

  • An epigastric hernia happens in the area between the sternum (chest bone) and the umbilicus (belly button).
  • An umbilical hernia happens in the umbilicus (belly button).
  • A spigelian hernia happens in the lower right or left part of the abdomen. This type is most common in older adults.
  • An incisional hernia happens over an incision that does not heal correctly. This is the most common type of ventral hernia.

What causes a ventral hernia?

  • Trauma
  • Aging
  • Heavy lifting
  • Obesity or pregnancy
  • A birth defect that prevents the abdominal wall from closing
  • Straining or coughing
  • An abdominal incision that becomes infected or does not heal
  • Chronic conditions such as ascites

What are the signs and symptoms of a ventral hernia?

Signs and symptoms may disappear when you lie flat.

  • Swelling or a lump in the abdomen or over the belly button
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Fever

How is a ventral hernia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may examine your abdomen and feel for bumps. Your provider may also ask you to cough or bear down like you are having a bowel movement. This may help your provider see and feel your hernia better. You may need any of the following:

  • An x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan may show blockage in the intestines or lack of blood flow to organs. You may be given contrast liquid to help the organs show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell a healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Blood and urine tests will show your kidney function, information about your overall health, and may show signs of infection.

How is a ventral hernia treated?

  • Medicine may be given to treat pain. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely.
  • Manual reduction of the hernia may be needed. Your healthcare provider will put firm, steady pressure on your hernia until it disappears inside the abdominal wall. You may need to wear a binder that holds the tissue in place.
  • Surgery may be needed if the hernia stops blood flow to any of the organs, causes a hole in the intestines, or blocks the intestines.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Do not lift anything heavy. Heavy lifting can make your hernia worse or cause another hernia. Ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to lift.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids may prevent constipation and straining during a bowel movement. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Eat foods high in fiber. Fiber may prevent constipation and straining during a bowel movement. Foods that contain fiber include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Weight loss may prevent your hernia from getting worse. It may also prevent another hernia. Talk to your healthcare provider about exercise and how to lose weight.
  • Wear an abdominal binder as directed. An abdominal binder well help prevent the hernia from happening again. It will hold it in the correct place after your healthcare provider reduces the hernia. Ask your healthcare provider if you can take the binder off for sleep. Apply the binder first thing in the morning, before you get out of bed. Do not wear your binder over your clothes. Apply it to your bare skin. Gently wash your skin under the binder daily. Pat your skin dry. Ask your healthcare provider what you should use to keep the area dry, such as cornstarch.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your symptoms, such as pain or vomiting, get worse.
  • Your abdomen is larger than usual.
  • Your hernia increases in size or is purple or blue.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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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