Men’s Health: How to Know If You Have a Hernia


A hernia occurs when tissue from a body cavity protrudes through the muscles or tissues that contain it. Most hernias occur in the abdomen when one of the abdominal contents bulges through an opening or weakness in the muscles and tissues within the abdominal cavity.

“There are several types of hernias, but inguinal hernias are the most common type, accounting for 75% of all hernias,” said Kelley R. Smith, DO, FACOS, a board-certified general surgeon at Penn Highlands DuBois. “Inguinal hernias happen in the groin area when part of the intestine or belly tissue protrudes into the inguinal canal, a passageway that runs down the inner thigh along either side of the pelvis and into the reproductive organs.”

What are the types of inguinal hernias?

There are three types of hernias: direct, indirect and femerol.

  • A direct inguinal hernia penetrates directly through the wall of the inguinal canal. Direct inguinal hernias affect adults as their abdominal muscles become weaker as they age.
  • An indirect inguinal hernia enters the canal through the top, usually because of a birth defect. This type of hernia can occur in fetuses in which the opening to the canal does not completely close during development.
  • The third type of inguinal hernia is femoral. This type affects women more often than men, but it is rare.

Who do inguinal hernias affect?

While women can develop inguinal hernias, they most often affect men or people assigned male at birth. In fact, inguinal hernias affect men at a rate of 10 to one compared to women.

“Men have gaps in the groin muscles that allow blood to flow to their testicles,” said Dr. Smith. “These gaps make men more vulnerable to inguinal hernias. Women, on the other hand, have a narrower inguinal canal, and it carries a round ligament that supports the uterus. This tough ligament helps strengthen the abdominal wall.”

Inguinal hernias often develop later in life as muscles weaken or deteriorate due to aging, strenuous physical activity, constant coughing or obesity. Injuries and abdominal surgery can also cause weakness in the abdominal wall. In addition, some individuals are born with an abdominal weakness because the wall did not close properly.

What are the symptoms of an inguinal hernia?

Not everyone with an inguinal hernia will experience symptoms. In some people, the symptoms may come and go, or they may only feel symptoms while doing certain activities.

There are, however, common signs and symptoms that may indicate an inguinal hernia:

  • A bulge in the groin area, which becomes more obvious when standing, coughing or straining
  • A burning or aching sensation at the bulge
  • Pain or discomfort in the groin, especially when bending over, coughing or lifting
  • A heavy or dragging sensation in the groin
  • Weakness or pressure in the groin

A hernia that cannot be moved back into the abdomen is called an incarcerated hernia, and it can cause part of the tissues to become strangulated. If you experience the following symptoms of an incarcerated hernia, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Severe pain and redness
  • Pain that keeps getting worse
  • Fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting

Can inguinal hernias be prevented?

You cannot prevent abdominal wall weakness from a congenital defect, but you can take steps to reduce the strain on your muscles and tissue as you age. Maintain a healthy weight, eat high-fiber foods that can prevent constipation, avoid lifting heavy objects and quit smoking.

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers comprehensive primary and specialty care at convenient locations throughout Pennsylvania. If surgery is needed — from a scheduled procedure, such as hernia surgery, to an urgent issue that requires immediate surgery, the general surgical teams are highly skilled. To learn more, visit or