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Hernia in Women

Women with hernias can suffer from pelvic pain for years before diagnosis

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Updated May 28, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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A sports hernia is something men often develop and treat quickly. But for women, a hernia can go undiagnosed for months, or even years, and cause unbearable bouts of severe abdominal and pelvic pain.

A hernia is an area in the abdominal wall that becomes thin, weak or separated, which allows the internal organs, such as the small intestines, to push through that small opening and cause tremendous pain. In women, the location of the hernia is frequently deeper and therefore less visible than in men.

Symptoms of Hernias in Women

The symptoms of hernias in women are quite different from those experienced by men. A woman with a hernia often has chronic deep pelvic pain, or bouts of acute, stabbing pain that comes on quickly and lingers. Such symptoms often point the physician in the wrong direction, and women are initially diagnosed with everything from endometriosis to cysts or fibroids.

The correct hernia diagnosis is more difficult in women, because these hernias are often very small and deep in the abdomen. Because of this, women's hernias rarely cause any bulging on the skin, the classic sign of a hernia in a man.

Diagnosing Hernias in Women

Although most hernias in women are initially believed to be from other problems, it's important to realize that hernia symptoms are quite unique. Women who can describe the specific sensations of hernia pain -- including burning, pinching and shooting pains in the pelvis or groin -- are more likely to receive a correct diagnosis more quickly.

Explaining what situations cause or increase pain or what makes it go away can also be a great help for the physician. Activities that cause the internal abdominal pressure to increase, such as lifting weights or exercising, coughing, laughing and even straining in the bathroom, can all be signs the physician will recognize as a possible hernia.

Describing pain in a very broad or general way makes it much more difficult for the physician to pinpoint the cause. It's critical to describe any pain you experience as precisely as possible.

Also See: What Is Pain? - Learn to Describe Your Pain More Precisely.

Once the symptoms lead to a possible hernia diagnosis in women, an MRI is the best imaging tool to help confirm the diagnosis.

Treating Hernias in Women

Conservative treatment methods include medications and physical therapy, and may improve pain management or control the symptoms. Physical therapists may use myofascial release techniques to help reduce or alleviate muscle spasms that increase hernia pain.

If conservative treatments fail to improve symptoms, laparoscopic surgery is generally used to repair the hernia. This procedure repairs the weakened area of the abdominal wall. Most women heal from laparoscopic surgery quickly - in one to two weeks - and are able to resume all sports and activities with no lingering pain.

Sources:

Metzger DA, PhD, MD, Hernias in Women: Uncommon or Unrecognized? [http://www.laparoscopytoday.com/2004/01/hernias_in_wome.html], Laparoscopy Today, January 01, 2004. Last Accessed 5/23/2011.

Farber AJ, Wilckens JH. Sports hernia: diagnosis and therapeutic approach. http://www.jaaos.org/cgi/content/full/15/8/507. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2007 Aug;15(8):507-14.Click here to read

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