A common condition for men being overlooked for women

By: Maureen McFadden@wndu.com Email
By: Maureen McFadden@wndu.com Email

Hernias are a condition you probably associate with men, but women can suffer from hernias, too.

They can be painful and debilitating, and while a simple surgery can fix the problem. Sometimes the hardest part for women is getting the right diagnosis.

Author Martine Ehrenclou writes about how patients can take charge of their health care, but recently, Martine had to follow her own advice when she started experiencing severe abdominal pain.

Martine Ehrenclou, suffered from hernias, describes what the pain felt like, "The pain felt like a red hot poker in my lower abdominals."

Martine saw 12 different doctors and spent 10 months in intense pain, still no one could tell her what was wrong. Then she found a doctor who finally gave her an accurate diagnosis.

Ehrenclou describes the moment when she found a doctor that could help her, "She walked in and said this is what you have, and 'I can help you' and I cried!"

It was a hernia. Martine actually had two.

Doctor Shirin Towfigh says hernias are often overlooked in women, "They tend to have the pain, but not the bulge."

A hernia happens when part of an internal organ bulges through a hole in a muscle-which can entrap abdominal fat and compress nerves, causing intense pain. Women are more likely to have internal hernias. The hard part: diagnosing it.

Dr. Towfigh explains how exams are not always enough, "An exam alone is not 100%."

Pain from hernias may be misdiagnosed as pelvic pain from ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis or adhesions. Doctor Towfigh says a vaginal exam, an MRI and a complete patient history are the best ways to spot one, and fixing a hernia is simple.

Dr. Towfigh explains the way they fix the problem, "The same way when we were kids and we had a hole in our jeans, and mom would put the patch, that's a simple way of describing our surgical way of fixing it."

Martine had hers fixed and can now focus on making music with her daughter, and not her pain.

Ehrenclou describes how much it helped, "I'm getting my life back."

Women account for only 8-percent of hernias, but Doctor Towfigh says that figure is probably low because many hernias remain undiagnosed.

She also says sometimes, if a woman is examined while standing up. The bulge will show, but often, hernias cannot be seen or felt.

REPORT #1860

WHAT IS A HERNIA? A hernia is usually a sac formed by the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum). The sac comes through a hole or weak area in the fascia, the strong layer of the abdominal wall that surrounds the muscle. A hernia occurs when the contents of a body cavity bulge out of the area where they are normally contained. These contents, usually portions of intestine or abdominal fatty tissue, are enclosed in the thin membrane that naturally lines the inside of the cavity. Hernias by themselves may be asymptomatic (produce no symptoms) or cause slight to severe pain. Femoral hernia is the most common form of hernia found in women; it appears as a bulge in the upper thigh. SOURCE: (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth);(www.emedicinehealth.com)

WOMEN AND HERNIA: There are various types of hernias, based on where they occur. Femoral. Inguinal, ventral and umbilical are all types of hernias that can affect women. Women are most likely to suffer from femoral hernias. This pain is particularly noticeable when bending or lifting heavy objects and pressure is applied. A tender lump may develop in the area where the hernia has developed.

Some abdominal hernias are present at birth, others develop later in life. Any condition that increases the pressure of the abdominal cavity may contribute to the formation or worsening of a hernia, such as obesity, heavy lifting, coughing, straining during a bowel movement or urination, chronic lung disease, and fluid in the abdominal cavity. SOURCE: (www.emedicinehealth.com)

SYMPTOMS: Signs of a hernia can range from noticing a painless lump to the severely painful, tender, swollen protrusion of tissue that is unable to push back into the abdomen (an incarcerated strangulated hernia). With femoral hernia there may be some groin discomfort that may worsen when the woman stands, lifts heavy objects, or strains. Sometimes, the first symptoms are abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. SOURCE: (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth); (www.emedicinehealth.com)
TREATMENT: The best method to treat a hernia is surgery. Hernias grow, and they usually do not go away on their own. Surgery will relieve discomfort. Also, if the hernia is not treated, there is a risk of tissue getting stuck or trapped in the weak area (called incarceration). This tissue may die off if it remains incarcerated for too long.
Often, a piece of plastic mesh is surgically placed to repair the defect in the abdominal wall. SOURCE: (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth)

PREVENTION: Steering clear of putting too much pressure on the abdominal wall may help to prevent hernias. Ways to this are: losing weight; eating more fiber and drinking adequate amounts of fluids to limit constipations; and using proper lifting techniques when picking up objects.

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