A ventral hernia is a hernia that forms in the abdominal wall, along the midline, due to a weakness in the muscles that creates a gap. Typically, with a ventral hernia, abdominal tissues or a portion of the intestines protrude into the gap. Ventral hernias can occur at any age.
Symptoms of Ventral Hernia
In the early stages of a ventral hernia, patients may not notice any discomfort or symptoms. The first sign of a ventral hernia may merely be a bulge at the site.
If severe, patients may experience sharp pain in the abdomen when:
- Lifting heavy objects
- Straining, like when making a bowel movement
Individuals who experience the following symptoms should call their doctor immediately:
- A visible bulge in the abdomen
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Severe discomfort
- Redness at the site of the bulge
Causes of Ventral Hernia
Many cases of ventral hernias occur at the site of a previous surgical incision. This is because the incision weakens the abdominal muscles, putting them at an increased risk of injury due to obesity, strain, and/or aging. A ventral hernia can occur immediately following surgery or even years after the procedure.
Risk factors that can contribute to weakness in the abdomen and the development of a ventral hernia, include:
- Severe vomiting
- Old age
- Lifting heavy objects over a long period of time
The type of ventral hernia diagnosed is defined based on where the hernia forms:
- Incisional hernia - A ventral hernia that develops at a previous incision site.
- Epigastric hernia - A ventral hernia that develops within the abdominal area between the bottom of the breast bone and the belly button.
- Umbilical hernia - A ventral hernia that develops in the area surrounding the navel or belly button.
What to Expect at Your Appointment
During your appointment, your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and will perform a physical examination. In order to make a definitive diagnosis and assess the severity of the hernia, your doctor may prescribe one of the following diagnostic techniques:
- MRI scan
- CT scan
- Ultrasound imaging
Additionally, your doctor may want to check for any signs of infection by prescribing a blood test or a urine test.
Non-surgical Treatments for Ventral Hernia
Ventral hernias do not heal on their own and require surgical intervention.
Surgical Treatment for Ventral Hernia and Post-Treatment
The goal of ventral hernia surgery is to repair the gap in the abdominal wall and return the protruding tissues and organs to their natural position. The type of procedure performed will be determined by the physician after considering the severity of the hernia. There are two procedures that can be used to treat ventral hernias:
Open ventral hernia repair - Open hernia repair is typically used for larger, more complex hernias. This surgery is performed by making one long incision near the hernia. In some cases, mesh made of animal tissue or a synthetic material may be used to hold the protruding tissues in place.
Laparoscopic ventral hernia repair - A ventral hernia can sometimes be repaired using a laparoscope, or a thin tube with a camera on the end, to guide the surgeon. During laparoscopic surgery, a surgeon will make three to four small incisions near the hernia. In some cases, mesh made of animal tissue or a synthetic material may be used to hold the protruding tissues in place. Laparoscopic repair is a minimally invasive technique that involves smaller incisions, a shorter time in the operating room, and faster recovery.
Recovery will vary for each patient, depending on the type of surgery performed and the overall health of the patient. Some patients may experience a low level of pain after an open repair procedure, while others may experience a high level of pain and discomfort, even after a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure.
Depending on the extent of the surgery, patients may be required to stay in the hospital for a few days. Typically, with laparoscopic procedures, patients can go home the same day. Patients will be able to return to daily activities with two to four weeks, but will need to wait at least six weeks before returning to vigorous exercise.