A ventral, or abdominal, hernia occurs when there is a weakness in the abdominal wall which develops a tear through which a portion of abdominal or intestinal tissue protrudes. Ventral hernias can vary in severity and may or may not require surgical repair.
A ventral hernia may be present at birth or develop over time. It may be caused by a congenital defect in which there is an incomplete closure of the abdominal wall during fetal development. Often a weakness in the abdominal wall present at birth is worn through as the patient ages. Reasons for the development or worsening of ventral hernias include heavy lifting, chronic coughing, and straining during bowel movements or urination. Risk factors for herniation in the abdomen include smoking, obesity and pregnancy.
There are several types of ventral hernia, each defined by its location. Some types of ventral hernias are: incisional hernias which develop at the site of a previous surgery, umbilical hernias which occur at the navel, and inguinal hernias which develop in the groin. The most obvious symptom of a ventral hernia is the telltale bulge. There may also be tenderness or pain at the site, particularly during strenuous activity.
When abdominal or intestinal tissue becomes trapped in the hernia, a condition know as incarceration, or becomes strangulated, meaning that blood flow to the organ is cut off, emergency surgery is required. Symptoms of an incarcerated or strangulated ventral hernia may include severe abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, fever, and the inability to urinate, defecate or pass gas.
During ventral hernia repair, which is done under general anesthesia, the surgeon pushes the protruding tissue back into the abdominal cavity and commonly uses surgical mesh to repair the weakness in the abdominal wall.