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What is a hernia?

A hernia, also called rupture, is a condition in which a structure, organ, or part of an organ bulges out through the wall of its body cavity. The protruding structure is enclosed in a pouch, called the hernial sac, which consists of the tissues that line the cavity.

There are many kinds of hernias. The most common is an abdominal hernia, in which there is a bulge on the abdominal wall into which a loop of intestine may pass. Abdominal hernias may occur in the groin, around the navel, and in the region of a surgical scar.

Hernias usually occur at a point where there is a structural weakness in the wall of a body cavity. Such weaknesses occur naturally at places where blood vessels, nerves, or similar structures leave one body cavity to enter another cavity or area of the body. For example, the lower part of the abdominal wall has structural weak points at the places where large blood vesselst'and nerves leave the abdomen and enter the leg. In males, there is another structural weak point at the site where the spermatic cord passes up from the testes and enters the abdominal cavity. The chance of a hernia developing is increased by a person's strain ing to lift heavy objects or bearing down strongly.

The hernial sac and its contents can usually be pushed back into the cavity, or they go back spontaneously when the p erson lies down and relaxes. If the hernia gets caught and will not slip back, a painful condition called incarceration occurs. Incarceration requires prompt medical attention and often surgical treatment. Most hernias, however, particularly if they are small, can be kept under control, although not cured, by wearing a mechanical device, called a truss, with which a pad is held against the weakened spot.

If a hernia cannot be kept in with a truss or if it shows signs of becoming larger, it must be repaired by a surgical operation.

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