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An abdominal wall hernia is a common condition usually occurring when there is a weakness in the muscles that make up the wall of the abdomen or tummy. A particular area of weakness may develop into a hole that can allow your insides to bulge through the hole and form a lump under the skin. This most commonly occurs with fat or bits of bowel, but can include other organs such as the bladder. Abdominal wall hernias are the most common types of hernia, but there are other types of hernia that can occur at different sites around the body.

Hernias are given names depending upon where they are in the body. The most common type is called an inguinal hernia, and occurs in the groin, on either side of the middle. Other common hernias include umbilical or paraumbilical (through or next to the belly button), epigastric (above the belly button), femoral (in the groin close to an inguinal hernia), and incisional (at the site of a previous cut for an operation). Hernias that involve the front part of the abdominal wall are often also referred to as 'ventral' hernias, which includes umbilical, paraumbilical, epigastric and many incisional hernias.

1 Inguinal hernia.jpg

Image credit: staff (2014), "Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014".

Hernias can cause no symptoms, or they may cause a range of symptoms which are described below.


As there is effectively a hole in the muscles, this allows things to bulge through the hole. Therefore a lump is part of having a hernia. The lump may be small, and may come and go. For example, many people find that the lump goes when they lie down and relax. Conversely, anything that increases the pressure inside the tummy will tend to push things into the hole, making it stick out and become more obvious. This can happen when lifting something heavy, or when going to the toilet. In some cases, the lump may always be present.

Aching or pain

Hernias can cause an ache or pain at the site of the lump. This may be made worse by increased activity. Some people find they get more discomfort at the end of the day, particularly if they have been active through the day.

Occasionally hernias can cause more severe discomfort or pain. Increased pain can be a sign of an emergency problem, particularly if the hernia gets stuck out and becomes tender to touch. If this happens, you should see a doctor urgently, as hernias that get stuck and become very painful can need emergency surgery.

Vomiting, bloating and constipation

Sometimes hernias that contain bowel can cause a blockage to food and fluid passing through the bowel. If this happens, you may develop an increasingly bloated feeling in the tummy, nausea, and over time you may start vomiting and stop opening your bowels. This would usually be associated with the lump coming out and getting stuck (meaning it would not be possible to push the lump back in if you lie down), and it may become increasingly painful and tender to touch. This is an emergency and requires you to see a doctor urgently.