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Hernia

Hernia

A hernia is a protrusion of a tissue, structure, or part of an organ through the muscular tissue or the membrane by which it is normally contained. The hernia has 3 parts: the orifice through which it herniates, the hernial sac, and its contents.

A hernia may be likened to a failure in the sidewall of a pneumatic tire. The tire's inner tube behaves like the organ and the side wall like the body cavity wall providing the restraint. A weakness in the sidewall allows a bulge to develop, which can become a split, allowing the inner tube to protrude, and leading to the eventual failure of the tire.

Pathophysiology

By far most hernias develop in the abdomen, when a weakness in the abdominal wall evolves into a localized hole, or "defect", through which adipose tissue, or abdominal organs covered with peritoneum, may protrude. Another common hernia involves the intervertebral disc, and causes back pain or sciatica.

Hernias may present either with pain at the site, a visible or palpable lump, or in some cases by more vague symptoms resulting from pressure on an organ which has become "stuck" in the hernia, sometimes leading to organ dysfunction. Fatty tissue usually enters a hernia first, but it may be followed by or accompanied by an organ.

Most of the time, hernias develop when pressure in the compartment of the residing organ is increased, and the boundary is weak or weakened.

Weakening of containing membranes or muscles is usually congenital (which explains part of the tendency of hernias to run in families), and increases with age (for example, degeneration of the annulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disc), but it may be on the basis of other illnesses, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or Marfan syndrome, stretching of muscles during pregnancy, losing weight in obese people, etc., or because of scars from previous surgery.

Many conditions chronically increase intra-abdominal pressure, (pregnancy, ascites, COPD, dyschezia, benign prostatic hypertrophy) and hence abdominal hernias are very frequent. Increased intracranial pressure can cause parts of the brain to herniate through narrowed portions of the cranial cavity or through the foramen magnum. Increased pressure on the intervertebral discs, as produced by heavy lifting or lifting with improper technique, increases the risk of herniation.

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