Hernias are caused by a combination of:
- A weakness in the muscles or connective tissuesConnective tissue surround, support and may connect muscles, organs and other parts of your body, caused by a disruption in the body’s natural cycle of tissue breakdown and repair.
- Increased pressure or strain on the weakened area.
Although this explanation sounds very simple, hernias are actually quite complex. There are many different types of hernias and different circumstances that can cause muscle weakness and pressure in your body.
Hernias are usually divided into two main categories:
- Congenital – Congenital hernias develop before you are born. A congenital hernia is present at birth, even though it may not be diagnosed for weeks, months or even years. A hernia that develops much later in life may actually result from a weakness that you have had since you were a baby.
- Acquired – Acquired hernias develop when the muscles or connective tissue in your abdomen are weakened or damaged during your lifetime.
Abdominal wall hernias
The most common types of hernia develop in the abdomen. The organs in your abdomen, such as your stomach and intestines, are held inside the abdomen by a strong wall of muscle and tissue. This is known as the abdominal wall and it runs from your ribcage down to your groin.The groin is the area just above the skin crease, where the upper leg meets the abdomen. When the muscles of your abdominal wall become weak or damaged, you are at greater risk for developing a hernia. The groin is the weakest part of the abdominal wall and is an area where hernias often develop.
In [the field of hernia repair], Shouldice’s staff is obviously better trained and has more experience than anyone else.
Atul Gawande – MD, The New Yorker Magazine
What causes muscles to weaken?
Your body is constantly involved in a well-balanced cycle of building up and breaking down muscles and tissue. As you age, the enzymesEnzymes are proteins found in all living cells. They play an important role in keeping your body healthy and well-nourished. that help to control this natural process can get out of balance. When your body cannot balance the build and repair cycle, weak spots may develop in your muscles and tissue, particularly in the groin area. Over time, your muscles may also be weakened by other factors, including poor nutrition, obesity, smoking, injuries and medical operations.
Once your abdominal wall has been weakened, anything that increases the pressure or strain on those weak spots, like coughing, vomiting or heavy lifting, can cause a hernia to develop. The extra pressure forces fatty tissue or, in some cases, part of the intestine (also called the bowel) through a weak spot, creating a bulge that you may be able to see and feel under your skin.
Are you at risk?
Anyone can develop a hernia – it does not matter whether you are male or female, young or old, physically active or inactive. But you may be at higher risk if you:
- Are male – men have a natural weakness in the groin area that increases their hernia risk
- Are over age 35 – as we age, our muscles and tissues naturally become weaker
- Are born with a weakness in the muscles of your abdomen
- Have close family relatives with hernias – weakness in the muscles or connective tissue may run in families
- Lift heavier objects – particularly if you are not used to heavy lifting
- Are overweight or obese – carrying extra weight stretches and weakens your abdominal muscles
- Have a heavy or chronic cough – the force of a cough or sneeze can tear weakened muscles and connective tissue
- Are frequently constipated – straining to have a bowel movement puts pressure on the muscles and connective tissue in your abdomen
- Have a sport injury or accident that tears the muscles or connective tissue in your abdomen
- You are a smoker – smoking adversely effects the body’s ability to produce enzymes which promote cell creation and growth.