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That Ache in Your Belly: Is It a Hernia?


You spent the weekend moving and lifting heavy boxes, and now your abdomen hurts. Could that pain in your belly or groin be a sign of a hernia? Jonathan Blancaflor, MD, a surgeon with Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and Yale Medicine, describes the signs and symptoms that indicate you may have a hernia.

A hernia is when an organ pushes through a weak spot in body tissue. It can develop between the muscles of the abdominal wall, the groin or the diaphragm causing a noticeable bulge along with pain – and it can be dangerous, said Dr. Blancaflor. “A hernia can be a serious issue because you can have a piece of bowel or intestine pushing through, which can lead to an obstruction or infection that requires emergency surgery,” he said.

Symptoms of an abdominal or groin hernia may include:

  • A bulge or lump you can see or feel in the abdomen or groin
  • Bulge that is more noticeable or uncomfortable at the end of a long day, when you have been on your feet
  • Aching pain or a feeling of pressure in the area
  • A tugging sensation in the groin
  • Pain or discomfort that gets worse with activities that put a strain on the abdomen, such as lifting, pushing, running, coughing or bearing down during bowel movements

Symptoms of a hiatal or diaphragmatic hernia may include:

  • Discomfort with large meals and a feeling of being full very easily
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Chest pain
  • Episodic chest pain with meals, associated with difficulty swallowing and vomiting

It is important to call your doctor if you suspect you have a hernia. Wait too long and you could face a trip to the emergency room. A doctor typically can see or feel a bulge from a hernia during a physical exam, but some cases might require a CT scan, ultrasound or other imaging to diagnose the condition accurately.

Technological advances have opened new doors and provided patients with treatment options for even complex hernia repairs. Yale New Haven Health’s advanced da Vinci Xi surgical robot is the very latest and best available technology, allowing surgeons to perform same-day, minimally invasive hernia surgery. Advantages of robotic surgery include three-dimensional images of the inside of the abdomen (as opposed to the two-dimensional in laparoscopic surgery), smaller scars and less pain. After the procedure is completed, the surgeon closes the small abdominal incisions with a stitch or two or with surgical tape.

“Robotic surgery for hernia repair provides our patients a much faster, greatly improved recovery period,” Dr. Blancaflor said. “Patients can return to work and get back to recreational activities sooner with a lot less pain when compared to open surgery."

Yale New Haven Health offers comprehensive digestive health services to diagnose, treat and help people manage a wide range of gastrointestinal symptoms and conditions, including all kinds of hernias.

Learn more about digestive disorders.