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Women Hiding Hernias: March 10, 2012

Hernias are considered by some to be a ‘manly’ health condition, often caused by excessive or heavy lifting.

“A hernia is essentially a defect or a hole in the abdominal wall that allows contents from inside the abdomen to push through the abdominal wall and usually present with a bulge or a mass in the tissue between the skin and the muscle,” says Dr. Darren Miter, a laparoscopic surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System.

They’re more commonly treated in men. Women make up only 8% of those diagnosed.

“The most common hernias that we hear about are hernias that develop in the groin or inguinal hernias. Women are less likely to develop the inguinal or groin hernias,” says Dr. Miter.

Most frequently identified hernias in women are ones that occur along scars from previous surgeries.

“Women end up undergoing more surgical procedures than men especially younger in life, so I see more incisional hernias in women than in men,” says Dr. Miter.

But many women may be women hiding a secret, a hernia they never suspected. Experts find women with pelvic pain may be misdiagnosed as having ovarian cysts, fibroids, even endometriosis when in fact they have a hidden hernia, one that was missing an outward sign.

“The typical or classic presentation of a hernia is someone feels a sudden tearing sensation either in the groin or perhaps the belly button and then develops a bulge in that area,” says Dr. Miter.

Unlike hernias in men, ones that afflict women are usually small and internal and rarely cause that obvious bulge. The good news is, once detected, they are fairly simple to fix.

“All we need to do is push whatever is pushing out of the abdomen back in and usually we reinforce the area with a piece of mesh or graft to make that area stronger,” says Dr. Miter.

Your best advice it not to expect the tattle of the bulge, women with chronic, severe abdominal pain should ask their doctor if it could be a hernia.