Hernias can be uncomfortable at the best of times. At their worst, they can be painful, restricting and downright annoying.
Thankfully, there are a number of available to those suffering with hernias. But for those who prefer watchful waiting, it can be difficult. That’s why in this article, we’ll be covering 4 incredibly useful tips on how to do exactly that.
What Actually is a Hernia?
Before we delve into the specifics, let’s start with some basic knowledge. Though most of us have heard of hernias and may even know somebody that has one, few of us know precisely what a hernia is and how it might affect a person.
A hernia, as the NHS puts it,
‘occurs when an organ pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue that holds it in place. For example, the intestines may break through a weakened area in the abdominal wall.’
Forms of hernia such as inguinal, umbilical & incisional are caused due to internal inflammation of the intestines. Eventually the pressure from within forces the abdominal wall to tear and the intestines to protrude.
Hernias are generally more common in the abdomen but can also form in the upper thigh, belly button and groin. It’s rare for a hernia to be life-threatening, but this can sometimes be the case - particularly when the formation of a hernia restricts blood flow to particular areas of the body. This is a complication known as strangulation.
Unfortunately, a hernia will not go away on its own and will usually need to be treated. Surgery is rarely required - usually when a hernia is causing dangerous complications. Let’s run through some of the most common hernia-treating methods.
To read about how the different types, symptoms and diagnosis of hernia - read our article here
How Are Hernias Treated?
The need for treatment will depend upon the size and severity of a patient’s symptoms. Some hernias cause little to no problems for people and don’t require surgical intervention.
Larger, more invasive hernias, on the other hand, may cause complications and need to be treated. In such cases, the following methods may be used:
If a hernia begins to grow larger that the size of a walnut or causes pain, surgery may be recommended. In theatre, a surgeon will work to sew together the whole through which tissue is protruding, patching it shut with a surgical mesh.
Hernias are often treated via laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery, which involves minimal incisions and enables a quick recovery process. Sometimes, though, a hernia may require open surgery and take longer to heal fully.
Surgery has its upsides and downsides too.
- About 30% of people reported pain after a hernia surgery
- Adverse events following hernia repair with mesh are pain, infection, hernia recurrence, adhesion, and bowel obstruction
- The incidence of recurrent hernia after primary repair of a groin hernia varies from 1% in specialized centers to 30% in general surveys
Dietary changes can sometimes help to manage the effects of a hernia - particularly hiatal hernias, whereby heartburn and acid reflux are common symptoms. In such cases, avoiding large meals, acidic foods and maintaining a healthy weight can help.
Medication & Supplements
Again, when dealing with a hiatal hernia, antacids and H-2 receptor blockers are medications that can help to reduce stomach acid, relieving discomfort and mitigating symptoms temporarily.
According to the US FDA, these medications including - omeprazole, pantocid, nexium, esomeprazole, rabeprazole are strictly not to be taken for a period longer than 14 days upto thrice a year as they cause severe side effects. They are acid blockers which reduce stomach acids preventing proper digestion and thus are not a treatment but designed for symptomatic relief. In the long run, they make such cases worse.
There are a few effective herbal supplements with a healing rate of upto 80% which can help reduce intestinal inflammation & help with a hernia. Such a combination of supplements are Hernica® & Acidim® by Grocare which can help with intestinal inflammation and reduce the effects and pain associated with a hernia.
Can You Live With a Hernia?
In situations where the above treatment options aren’t available, or where a patient may need to wait for some time before receiving the right treatment, it is possible to live a normal life with a hernia.
As Harvard Health puts it,
‘Unless a hernia is causing you distress or limiting your activities, you can safely delay surgical repair.’
A patient may decide, rather than receiving treatment, to opt for a process known as ‘watchful waiting’. This is simply where they allow their hernia to remain present, keeping a close eye on it and monitoring any changes. Supplements such as Hernica & Acidim are extremely helpful with these conditions.
If a hernia is producing little or no symptoms, watchful waiting may be the most appropriate course of action to take since it circumvents the complications sometimes associated with surgery.
Is Watchful Waiting a Safe Option?
Although watchful waiting is generally safe, it does still carry a degree of risk. The most severe of these is a rare but sometimes complications known as strangulation, whereby a segment of the intestine becomes trapped and blood cannot reach it. In such rare cases, surgery may be recommended.
Reassuringly, the results from a study conducted in 2006 helped to reduce fears surrounding strangulation. The study, which observed men diagnosed with an inguinal hernia, found that only 3 in 1,000 men had issues with strangulation. Moreover, the rate of complications following hernia repair was the same in men that chose watchful waiting.
It seems, on that basis, that watchful waiting is indeed a safe option for inguinal hernias. Following with a supplement reduces the risk associated with strangulation further.
Watchful Waiting vs Hernia Repair Surgery
Since many people with hernias, particularly inguinal types, experience minimal symptoms, watchful waiting often seems like the right option. Determining whether deferring surgical intervention is a safe and acceptable option for the individual, however, can be tricky.
One study into the outcomes of watchful waiting compared with surgery found the following:
‘23% of patients assigned to watchful waiting crossed over to receive surgical repair (increase in hernia-related pain was the most common reason offered); 17% assigned to receive repair crossed over to watchful waiting.
Self-reported pain in watchful-waiting patients crossing over improved after repair. Occurrence of postoperative hernia-related complications was similar in patients who received repair as assigned and in watchful-waiting patients who crossed over.’
23% of patients in the sample decided to opt for surgical repair due to pain-related symptoms, suggesting that watchful waiting is usually an effective method in hernia management, though complications can sometimes arise.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to treating and/or monitoring a hernia. Personal preference, symptoms and patient presentation all play an important role in deciding on the best course of action to take.
5 Incredibly Useful Tips for Living With a Hernia
If watchful waiting is the path for you, you’ll need to know a few things about how to live safely with a hernia. That’s what the next section is all about.
1. Watch Your Diet
Hiatal hernias occur when part of the stomach pushes upward through an opening in the diaphragm. Many people that have a hiatal hernia experience no symptoms, but for those who do, what they eat can play an important role in the severity of their symptoms.
Even in other types of hernias such as inguinal, umbilical, incisional or epigastric, your diet can play a major role. What you eat directly correlates to bloating and inflammation of the intestine which can further cause pain or increase in the hernia.
Hiatal hernias are usually accompanied by heartburn and acid indigestion. That’s because the presence of the hernia makes it easier for stomach acid to move up into the esophagus - the tube that carries food from the throat into the stomach. This can create a burning feeling in the chest and throat.
Certain foods, particularly those with acidic or high protein ingredients, can worsen these symptoms. Such foods include:
- Citrus foods, such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons, and orange juice, grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, and lemonade
- Fatty and fried foods, such as fried chicken and fatty cuts of meat
- Fermented foods like bread, wine, dosa etc.
- Tomato-based foods such as spaghetti sauce, pizza, chili, salsa, and tomato juice
- Coffee, tea (including decaffeinated versions), and alcohol
- Carbonated beverages
- Dairy products, such as whole milk, ice cream, and creamed food. (Soy milk may be an appropriate milk substitute. Also, mild cheeses, like feta or goat, may be enjoyed in moderation.)
Foods that are less likely to aggravate symptoms, on the other hand, are:
- Bananas and apples
- Green beans, peas, carrots, broccoli and most other green vegetables
- Grains, like cereals (bran and oatmeal), bread, rice, pasta, and crackers
- Skim milk and low-fat yogurt
- Lean meat, chicken, and fish
- Pretzels, graham crackers, rice cakes, and baked potato chips
As with most conditions, experiences will vary depending on the individual. You may find foods on the no-go list okay to eat, causing no symptoms, and the opposite for foods that are generally okay.
The best thing to do is to find what works for you and stick with that, enabling you to live with your hernia whilst mitigating any unpleasant acid-related symptoms.
2. Avoid Heavy Lifting
Due to the nature of most hernias, it’s best to avoid heavy lifting wherever possible. Weightlifting in particular can cause further herniation and deterioration of your condition. It’s usually a better idea to steer clear of such exercise whilst you have a hernia. In such a case, supplements or surgeries also become very unfavourable as there is constant strain and pressure from within while lifting, so chances of recurrence or not healing and extremely high.
Furthermore, anything that increases pressure on the abdomen, like lifting, coughing, sneezing or bearing down, can strain weak areas and increase the risk of a hernia becoming worse.
It is still possible to exercise with a hernia. Avoiding breathing patterns such as the valsalva maneuver can help to reduce excess abdominal strain when working out. As Henry Halse at Livestrong writes,
‘The valsalva maneuver takes place when you strain and hold your breath at the same time, causing pressure to rise in your abdomen. Normally it's not a problem, but when you're trying to protect your abdomen from further injury, it's something to watch out for.’
When exercising with a hernia, focus on your breathing during every single breath. Make sure that you do not hold your breath, breathing out fully as you exert yourself and in as you relax your muscles.
Lastly, stretching the abdominal wall too excessively can worsen any existing tears in the abdomen. It is advised that you avoid abdominal stretches such as upward dog, refraining from putting any added pressure on the torso and increasing the risk of further herniation.
3. Strengthen Your Abdominal Muscles
While heavy lifting and strained breathing are best to avoid, there are some abdominal exercises which can be used to strengthen your core, reducing the risk of further herniation by providing reinforcement against pressure.
If you have undergone keyhole hernia-repair surgery, you must wait at least four weeks before beginning exercise and even longer in the case of open surgery.
If that window has passed, or if you haven’t had surgery at all, it’s a good idea to begin using some exercises to strengthen the abdominal wall under the supervision of your doctor or a yoga specialised. Exercising without supervision should be conducted with caution, though, as exercises conducted improperly can cause pressure around the affected area and make things worse.
Yoga International provides a detailed list of hernia-appropriate abdominal exercises taken from the book ‘Yoga for Common Ailments’ written by Dr. Robin Mondro, Dr. R Nagarathna and Dr. H. R. Nagendra. Some of these include:
- Single leg raises: Lie down, with your arms by your sides. As you inhale, slowly raise your left leg up, without bending your knee, as far as you can without feeling pain in your hamstrings, then exhale as you lower it. Keep your lower back close to the floor. Start with 5 leg raises for each leg and work up to 20.
- Head lifting/crunches: Lie down, with your legs out straight and your arms by your sides. Exhale and raise your head, shoulders, and arms. Hold for a moment, and then come down on the inhalation and relax. Repeat up to 20 times. Avoid this exercise if you feel pain in your abdomen or neck; or only come up partway at first, and work up to the full position gradually.
- Abdominal lock: Bend forward, rest your hands above your knees, and let the weight of your torso rest in your arms. Exhale completely through your mouth, then close your throat so no air can enter. Expand your chest, as though inhaling, and suck in your abdomen, forming a deep hollow. Try to relax the abdominal muscles as you do so. This may be difficult, but with daily practice you will soon master it. Hold until you need to take a breath, then release and inhale slowly.
- Abdominal pumping: Leaning forward, place your hands just above your knees, and once again let your weight rest in your arms. Exhale completely through your mouth. Close your throat so air cannot enter into your lungs. Expand your chest, as if inhaling, and suck your abdomen up into the chest. Then, with your lungs empty, relax your muscles so the abdomen comes out. Suck in the abdomen and pump it in and out until you need to inhale; then breathe normally. Repeat 3 times.
4. Lose Weight
Many different sources state that obesity and overweightness can increase the severity and complications associated with hernias. According to one study,
‘Additional risks for hernia in this study included a prior incisional hernia (41% vs. 19%), type 2 diabetes mellitus (28% vs. 15%), wound infection (35% vs. 18%), sleep apnea (33% vs. 14%), and obesity hypoventilation (35% vs. 17%). Others have found a similar rate of incisional hernia following obesity surgery.’
Following surgery in particular, obesity can increase the risk of incisional hernias occurring, whereby fatty tissues protrude through surgically-created openings.
Excess fat weight can put added pressure on the abdominal wall, increasing the chances of herniation. As well as that, being overweight isn’t healthy in general and can cause other health-related complications that only aggravate hernia symptoms.
Maintaining a healthy BMI can reduce this risk, mitigating the symptoms and risks associated with most hernia types.
5. Consider Supplements
Basically, all forms of hernia occur as a result of internal inflammation. When there is inflammation of the intestines, they build pressure on the abdominal wall and eventually cause a tear and protrude out. Considering the rate of recurrence and complications associated with surgeries, it may not be the best option for a patient with a hernia. Taking hernia supplements in such a case is very helpful as it keeps the hernia from increasing further, reduces risks associated with strangulation and provides relief from hernia pain. Such a combination of supplements are Hernica® & Acidim® by Grocare which can help with intestinal inflammation and reduce the effects and pain associated with a hernia. In many cases, the hernia heals completely too.
Hernica® is a herbal formula that reduces inflammation of the intestines and relieves pressure on the abdominal wall, by regulating bowel movements and eradicating subclinical infections.
Acidim® is designed to remove free radicals from the intestines, regulate stomach acid levels, reduce bloating, regulate digestion and it also acts as a catalyst in the healing process by maintaining optimum pH levels in the body.
Because this treatment addresses the root cause of the issue, chances of Hernia recurrence are minimal. This natural Kit is also effective in aiding post-surgical Hernia pain.
You can read more about this Hernia Kit here - https://www.grocare.com/products/hernia-kit or you can reach out to the team to understand how the supplements work.
Hernias, though inconvenient, are usually livable with. If a hernia cannot be removed in theatre, it’s perfectly possible for a patient to live a relatively normal life, even whilst their hernia remains present.
By making use of the above methods, patients can work to manage symptoms and strengthen their muscles in an attempt to prevent further herniation or deterioration.
To recap on the points listed in this article, some simple ways to keep a hernia in check include: