What is a Hernia? - Definition & Types

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

There are many different types of hernias that occur for different reasons and vary between men, women, and children. We are going to go over the definition and types of hernias in this lesson.


You recently began to feel discomfort in your chest and upper stomach area. Your doctor, Dr. Lamar, has diagnosed you as having a hernia.

A hernia is a bulging out or protrusion of an organ or other body tissue through a weakened area in the muscle wall or tissue that holds it in place.

You decide you want to look up more information about your hernia so you know what to expect. After doing an online search for hernias, you realize that there is more than one type. You begin reading information about the different ones.

Types of Hernia

Umbilical hernias usually occur near the belly button
Diagram of an umbilical hernia

The first type of hernia you come across is an umbilical hernia, which is when babies and children have a bulging of their intestines through their abdominal wall. This usually happens near the umbilical cord. This is often because the abdominal didn't finish developing in the womb, and can often resolve on its own after a year or two.

The next type of hernia you have heard of because your friend Angela had it after surgery. An incisional hernia is a protrusion of the intestines through the surgery site or tissue located close to the surgery site. This occurs because the muscles and tissues of the abdominal wall are weakened from being cut into. This makes it easier for the intestines to push through this area.

Incisional hernias can occur immediately or years after the surgery has taken place. Angela had a colostomy bag put in and she developed a parastomal hernia, a type of incisional hernia where the intestines bulge around the site of the opening in the abdominal wall, about 2 years after her surgery.

A femoral hernia, or 'outer groin hernia', is when the intestines protrude into the opening that leads the femoral artery into the upper thigh area. This type of hernia is rather rare in men and children, but does occur with some frequency in obese and pregnant women.

You recognize the name of the next type of hernia as the one that you were diagnosed with. Hiatal hernias are protrusions of the stomach through the opening that allows the esophagus to pass through the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest and abdominal cavity and allows for breathing. It contains an opening, called the 'hiatus', which allows the esophagus and vagus nerve to pass through the diaphragm to the abdominal cavity. So that's the cause of the discomfort you are feeling in your chest and upper stomach!

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