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What is a hernia?

Dr Hélène Huot
Doctor

The term “hernia” means a small outgrowth, which as a result of a certain situation is found outside its natural cavity, and therefore outside the affected organ. Hernia is a condition that can affect various organs of the human body, and there are many types of hernias, but let’s focus today on the following: herniated disc (back), cervical herniated disc (neck) and hiatal hernia (stomach).

Causes

Between each of the vertebrae of the spine lies an intervertebral disc, whose main functions are to absorb shocks and provide flexibility to the upper body. A hernia occurs when the substance contained inside an intervertebral disc is found on the outside. This can be caused by a weakening, cracking or rupture of a disc. The nerve can then be compressed. The level and volume of the hernia explain the severity of the symptoms and the location of the spread of pain to the legs.

Hiatal hernia is a completely different condition. This occurs when a part of the stomach rises through a small opening called the esophageal hiatus. Although the causes are not well known, health care professionals agree that aging can be a major risk factor, give that with age, the diaphragm loses its rigidity. In some cases, the condition may be due to a dysfunction of the hiatus.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of a herniated lumbar or cervical disc are definitely pain, which tends to intensify when the affected person sits or lies down for a long time. The pain can become more acute when the back muscles are also used, for example when leaning forward, raising the arms, sneezing or coughing. For lumbar hernias, the affected person may feel pain spreading to the leg. As for neck hernias, stiffness is a major warning sign, as is pain spreading to the shoulders or arms. Feelings of tingling and numbness are also signs of a possible lumbar or cervical disc herniation.

Hiatal hernia, on the other hand, presents very different symptoms from the other two types of hernia. These include mainly heartburn and gastric reflux. Abdominal cramps, sore throat, chest pain and shortness of breath are also common among sufferers.

Diagnosis and treatment

To diagnose a hernia, the doctor will first do a physical assessment and ask the patient questions about their pain. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may request an X-ray, a CT scan, an MRI or any other diagnostic examination that they judge appropriate. If any of these techniques confirm a hernia, the doctor may prescribe medication to relieve the pain and inflammation for herniated discs, and antacids for hiatal hernia.

Imagix clinics are equipped with state-of-the-art imaging equipment that can help doctors diagnose a hernia and determine the right treatment.

If you have any questions or need more information, please don’t hesitate to call our customer service number at 1 800 463-7674.