Hernias most commonly develop in the abdominal wall, where an area weakens and develops a tear or hole. Abdominal tissue or part of the intestines may push through this weakened area, causing pain and potentially serious complications.
Ventral hernias are a type of abdominal hernia. They may develop as a defect at birth, resulting from incomplete closure of part of the abdominal wall, or develop where an incision was made during an abdominal surgery, occurring when the incision doesn't heal properly.
Incisional hernias can develop soon after surgery or many years later. They affect as many as 30 percent of the patients who have abdominal surgery, such as an appendectomy.
Ventral hernias cause a bulge or lump in the abdomen, which increases in size over time. In some cases, the lump may disappear when you lie down, and then reappear or enlarge when you put pressure on your abdomen, such as when you stand, or lift or push something heavy.
When tissue inside the hernia becomes stuck or trapped in abdominal muscle, it can cause pain, nausea, vomiting and constipation.
In rare cases, this may lead to a potentially life-threatening condition known as "strangulation," which requires emergency surgery. This occurs when the blood supply to the herniated bowel is cut off or greatly reduced, causing the bowel tissue to die or rupture. Other symptoms of a strangulated hernia include severe abdominal pain, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat, severe nausea, vomiting and high fever.
In many cases, a hernia can be diagnosed through a physical examination of the abdomen.
Your doctor will examine the area where a ventral hernia may exist and may ask you to cough while examining your abdomen.
A CT scan may be performed as part of the diagnosis.
Ventral hernias are repaired by surgery. Without treatment, most hernias will increase in size.
An untreated hernia may also result in intestinal blockage and "strangulation," which requires immediate medical attention. Strangulation occurs when the blood supply to the herniated bowel is cut off or greatly reduced, causing the bowel tissue to die or rupture.
Surgical repair of ventral hernias is a complicated, major procedure. Extremely large ventral hernias require a procedure called progressive pneumoperitoneum.
In this approach, surgeons use a laparoscope, a tiny telescope with a television camera attached, to view the hernia from the inside. The laparoscope is placed inside a cannula, or small, hollow tube, which is inserted into the abdomen through a small incision.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.