Preventing Hernias in Seniors
A hernia is caused by a weakness or tear in muscles usually in the abdominal wall, which allows a part of the intestine to bulge out, especially when standing. Most hernias will fall back in place when lying down.
Types of Hernias
Inguinal hernias are in the lower abdomen and are more common in men and make up 94% of all hernias. In men they often lead to a bulging in the scrotum. In women they are not as noticeable and may not get diagnosed.
Femoral hernias make up 2% of all hernias and are found more often in women. These are found between the pelvis and the thigh often at the crease in the skin at the top of the thigh. They have a high rate of strangulation and many surgeons prefer to treat them before they make problems to avoid the risk of strangulation.
Umbilical hernias occur at the naval where a bulge of intestine finds a weakened place in the abdominal wall.
Epigastric hernias are in the upper abdomen and are caused by a lump of fat that bulges through the abdominal wall.
Hiatal or Diaphragmatic hernias are where a part of the stomach bulges into a weakened part of the diaphragm.
Incisional hernias occur at the site of previous abdominal surgery..
Hernias get Bigger with Age
Hernias tend to get bigger with age, so seniors may face larger hernias than they had at an earlier age, or will discover for the first time that they have hernias. Some hernias are identified in small children and operated on. However, the congenital factor or weakness in the muscles of the abdominal wall that causes hernias can lead to the formation of new hernias. Also, many small hernias go unnoticed and only when they get big enough to cause pain or other problems are they diagnosed. Some hernias may remain painless and seniors may be able to live with them, while making lifestyle changes to keep them from getting worse. However, since the relatively rare femoral hernia has a high rate of strangulation, surgeons prefer to correct these with surgery before they can get strangulated.
Chronic constipation and straining at the stool cause hernias to get bigger. Steps must be taken between seniors who suffer from chronic constipation and their doctor or gastroenterologist to treat constipation. Seniors who tend to constipation should be encouraged to drink more water and fluids, avoid getting dehydrated and when necessary taking prune juice. Extra virgin olive oil is a gentle laxative and should be used as the main fat or oil in cooking, baking, and added to vegetables instead of butter or margarine. Bread can also be dipped in olive oil. Doctors may prescribe other medications. Seniors should be encouraged to eat more whole grain breads and cereals and more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Do not lift heavy objects
Seniors who may not even know they have a hernia may discover it after lifting heavy objects. In fact, many men pride themselves that they can lift heavy weights, not realizing that in some cases they are endangering their health.
Being overweight just adds that more weight to carry around and can contribute to getting a hernia.
Many hernias are brought on by coughing and smokers often develop smoker’s cough and this can worsen a hernia. Also, seniors with allergies, asthma and other pulmonary problems that lead to coughing should be watched for the development or worsening of hernias.
The main danger from some kinds of hernias is if they get strangulated. This happens when the piece of intestine gets trapped, which is called an incarcerated hernia, and the blood supply to the intestines gets cut off. This can come on without any warning and is a life threatening medical emergency. Treatment is only surgical, which must be done within 8-12 hours or the strangulated intestine can get sepsis and gangrene and will also need to be surgically removed. Symptoms of a strangulated hernia are excruciating pain that may be accompanied by nausea. The person may not be able to expel gas or have a bowel movement. Surgery must be done within 8-12 hours in order to save the intestine.
Hernias can get bigger with aging, so seniors together with their doctors should take steps to make lifestyle changes to prevent getting hernias and their complications like strangulation.