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A. That depends on where the hernia is located, and how much pain you are experiencing. Hernias occur when your abdominal muscles stretch or tear -- as they can during pregnancy -- causing part of your intestines to poke through the weakened area. You'll recognize it as a bulge in your stomach, navel, or groin. Often the hernia is right in the middle of the abdomen, but it can also escape into the upper thigh region. These are called femoral hernias and are more common in women than in men. Femoral hernias can be more serious than other types because they could become "strangled," causing the blood supply to the trapped intestine to be cut off.
If you develop a hernia, talk to your doctor about treatment options. For the most part, hernias can be fixed by lying down and gently pushing on the bulge to place it back behind the muscle wall. (Ask your doctor to show you how to do this.) If this technique doesn't eliminate the hernia, and the defect is a relatively small one -- not the femoral type -- you can live with it, and the unsightly bulge, without any harm. Expect some discomfort with most hernias, but intense pain or pressure, growth in size, or discoloration is a sign that you may need surgery. Fortunately, the operation is usually simple. The majority of patients stay in the hospital for less than a day, and while some hernias can be repaired under local anesthesia, others will require general anesthesia. Recovery time is about two weeks. If you have a desk job, you can return to work immediately after recovery, but you should avoid heavy lifting for six to eight weeks -- that includes not picking up your kids or grocery bags. The good news? Once a hernia is successfully repaired, it's unlikely to recur.
Dr. Marianne J. Legato is the medical advisor to Ladies' Home Journal, and is the founder and director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University.
Originally published on LHJ.com, February 2006.
Do you have a health question, concern, or worry? E-mail your questions to Dr. Legato at AskDrLegato@lhj.com, and the answer (but not your name) may be featured in an upcoming issue of Ladies' Home Journal or on LHJ.com.