A ventral hernia occurs when a weak spot in the abdomen enables abdominal tissue or an organ (such as an intestine) to protrude through a cavity muscle area. These hernias are visibly identified by a bulge in the belly area. The most common sites for ventral hernias are the site of a previous abdominal procedure (an incisional hernia), the navel (an umbilical hernia), and the groin (an inguinal hernia). About 90,000 ventral hernia repairs are performed in the United States each year.
Ventral hernias can develop over a long period of time, either as a congenital defect at birth, during or after pregnancy, or as the abdominal muscles gradually weaken due to years of absorbing stress. They can also form months or years after an abdominal surgery. Though there is no way to predict if a ventral hernia will occur after an abdominal surgery, it is more likely to occur if a patient increases physical activity, such as lifting heavy items, soon after the operation.
Ventral hernias cannot heal on their own. While in mild ventral hernia cases can be treated without surgery by pushing the protruding tissue back, the hernial cavity will not close up naturally. Most commonly, ventral hernias are surgically repaired in order to avoid the risk of the intestine becoming strangulated (cut off from the body’s blood supply). Strangulation is considered a medical emergency. At Mount Sinai, our surgeons have specialized expertise in treating the full range of ventral hernias.
Ventral Hernia Symptoms
Ventral hernia symptoms are indicative of its location in the abdomen and can include:
- Sharp pain in the abdominal area: The most common symptom, this sharp pain can present during physical activities, like as walking, jogging, and lifting; sneezing; and coughing.
- Vomiting: Incisional hernias can cause digestive complications, some of which may lead to vomiting.
- Constipation: Since oftentimes this type of hernia causes the intestines to move out of place, it can make bearing down during a bowel movement difficult, challenging an individual’s regularity.
Ventral Hernia Treatment Options
Ventral hernias are typically diagnosed by checking the abdomen for a noticeable bulge. Some physicians may prescribe CT scans, ultrasound, blood tests, or urinalysis in addition to the physical examination. If an organ is stuck in the hernial cavity, or an organ is at risk for becoming stuck, the surgeon will typically recommend surgery. Our surgical experts assess the hernia’s size and location, among other factors, to determine the appropriate course of action, which can include open surgery, which involves pushing the protruding organ or tissue back into its place and placing a mesh patch to reduce the risk of a recurring incisional hernia. The Mount Sinai Health System also offers minimally invasive treatments, specifically laparoscopic ventral hernia repair.
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Celia Divino, MD, discusses hernia facts and treatments. Learn more