Hernia Symptoms in Women versus Men

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Are you wondering if the aching in your groin is a hernia? Did you know women get hernias in their groin too? In fact, hernias are common in men and women. But they are often perceived as a man’s problem. Do women have the same hernia symptoms as men? Often a hernia presents with similar symptoms for men and women but certain types of hernias are more common in one of the sexes and each type of hernia has specific symptoms related to it.


What is a hernia?

A hernia is simply when a part of your internal organ squeezes through a weak spot in your muscle wall. It may cause abdominal and pelvic pain depending on which type of hernia it is. 
There are a number of different types of hernias. It is generally believed that you have an increased chance of getting a hernia as you age. Your muscle tissue can become weak and lose flexibility over time.


Which type of hernia is more common in women?


Femoral hernias

A femoral hernia occurs when fatty tissue or a part of your bowel pokes through a weak spot in the surrounding abdominal muscle wall into an area called the femoral canal. It protrudes through at the top of your inner thigh. 

Femoral hernias happen far more in women than men as women have a wider pelvis that makes their femoral canal slightly larger. Femoral hernias often appear after childbirth, from straining on the toilet with constipation, when moving heavy loads, in those who are obese or, with a constant and heavy cough.


Umbilical and epigastric hernias

An umbilical hernia develops at your belly button and an epigastric hernia appears in your upper abdomen. These hernia lumps happen when fatty tissue or a part of your bowel pokes through near your belly button or upper abdomen area.

Both hernias are common among pregnant women especially those with a multiple pregnancy such as twins or triplets. This is due to the stretching around the naval and upper abdomen during pregnancy. Obese women may also be more at risk as obesity can cause an opening in the abdominal muscles to expand over time. 


Incisional hernias

An incisional hernia is a lump that occurs through a previously made incision in your abdominal wall. The scar may be weak and can give way to a hernia. According to the British Hernia Centre, it is estimated that at least 12-15% of abdominal operations lead to an incisional hernia¹. Incisional hernias are more common in women than in men as caesarean section contributes largely to the cases of incisional hernias.


Inguinal hernias

An inguinal hernia happens when your bladder or intestine pushes through your groin in the inguinal region. Inguinal hernias are the most common type of hernia. They can be direct or indirect.  A direct inguinal hernia develops over time and is caused by weakness in the abdominal muscles. It is most common in males. An indirect inguinal hernia is caused by a defect in the abdominal wall that was typically present at birth. Indirect inguinal hernia is the most common hernia in women.  


Hiatus hernias

A hiatus hernia occurs in the chest area and affects the digestive system. It happens when the upper part of your stomach pushes up into your chest through an opening in your diaphragm muscle that separates your abdomen from your chest. The risk of this hernia is slightly increased in women as they age and particularly if they are overweight.


What are the hernia symptoms in women?

Hernia symptoms in women depend on the type of hernia they have. In women, hernia symptoms can sometimes be under or misdiagnosed. This is because hernias in women are frequently deeper in their body and a bulge is less noticeable than in men.

Also, hernia symptoms including pelvic pain may initially be thought to be due to gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis, cysts or fibroids. This can be compounded by the fact that hernias are less common in women.


Femoral hernia symptoms

A femoral hernia may not be visible or have any symptoms. It can appear as a small bulge in the inner upper part of a woman’s thigh or groin. The lump may disappear when lying down and can often be pushed back in. 

Sometimes femoral hernia symptoms in women include lower groin pain that radiates down the front of their leg and pain when they cough heavily. Women with symptoms of stomach pain, nausea or vomiting should seek urgent medical advice as they may indicate an incarcerated hernia. Femoral hernias are much more likely to cause an emergency situation. 


Umbilical and epigastric hernia symptoms

The symptoms of umbilical and epigastric hernias include a bulge in the navel or upper abdomen, a dull ache through to severe pain especially when coughing, sneezing or lifting heavy objects, and bloating or constipation.


Incisional hernia symptoms

Incisional hernias occur with a small lump or swelling near or along surgical scars in the abdomen. They can happen months or years after an abdominal operation. The lump appears when coughing or straining, and then goes away again. Over time it can get bigger and cause pain.


Hiatal hernia symptoms

A hiatal hernia may not have any noticeable symptoms. Sometimes, hiatal hernia symptoms in women can include heartburn, acid-reflux, bad breath, bloating, nausea and being sick, and difficulty and pain swallowing.


Indirect inguinal hernia symptoms

In women, an indirect inguinal hernia can appear as a swelling or lump in your groin that may be painful. The lump often appears when you lift something or strain and then disappears when you lie down.


What are the hernia symptoms in men?


Inguinal hernia symptoms in men

Inguinal hernias are the most common type of hernias in men. It’s a man’s reproductive anatomy that leads to their susceptibility to inguinal hernias and the fact that their testicles descend from their abdomen through the inguinal canal during their fetal development. Their abdominal wall then closes up but it can leave a man with a weak spot or opening in their abdominal wall where a hernia can protrude through. Their abdominal wall can also weaken with age.

An inguinal hernia can manifest as a bulge in the groin that comes and goes based on whether or not the patient is standing, lifting, exercising or coughing. It can also be painful. 

In men, the weak spot is usually in the inguinal canal where the spermatic cord enters the scrotum. The protruding intestine can descend into a man’s scrotum and cause a swollen and enlarged scrotum. Pain can radiate down the inner thigh or into the scrotum.


Is hernia treatment the same for men and women?

Surgery is the only way to treat a hernia and nearly all hernias can be surgically repaired. The exact hernia treatment is dependent on the type of hernia a man or woman has. Hernia treatment is generally the same for men and women and that is to repair the hernia either using laparoscopic or open surgery techniques. 

When treating women with inguinal hernias, a doctor is less likely to use a mesh for extra support as their hernia opening can be completely closed with sutures without the added worry of keeping part of the opening to allow blood flow to the testicles. 


Hernia diagnosis and treatments at Ramsay Health Care UK

We can offer our patients convenient appointments with an experienced hernia specialist to investigate their symptoms without having to wait. We regularly see men and women with hernia symptoms. We promptly and reliably provide a diagnosis. Should treatment be needed, patients enjoy the peace of mind that our expert surgeons routinely and rapidly perform hernia surgery to alleviate their hernia symptoms. 

You can find out more about hernia treatment at Ramsay here, or get in touch with us if you’d like more information or you want to book an appointment to see one of our specialists.

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