An abdominal hernia is a piece of the intestine or other organ protruding through an opening in the abdominal wall, as described by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Hernias occur where the abdominal wall is weakened, or where a previous opening has occurred, such as with abdominal surgery.
Symptoms of a hernia include a bulging under the skin that may be painless or produce discomfort and which grows larger during strenuous activity or coughing, states JAMA. In its early stages, the contents of the bowel or other organ can be pushed back inside the abdominal wall, but some hernias grow too large to be pushed back in, which is called incarceration, states JAMA. An incarcerated hernia causes blood to be cut off from the bowel in some cases, called strangulation, causing nausea, vomiting, constipation and pain, states JAMA. Additionally, a strangulated hernia quickly leads to gangrene in some cases, which causes the intestinal wall to die or the portion of the bowel involved to rupture; this leads to infection and inflammation of the abdominal cavity, called peritonitis, according to Merck Manual, and shock and death occur if left untreated.
Risk factors for developing a hernia include obesity, being male or having a family history of hernias, pregnancy, previous abdominal surgery, cystic fibrosis and other chronic lung infections, coughing, weight lifting and straining during bowel movements, states JAMA.