Anyone can get hernias, especially after abdominal surgery

Anne Rhodes is back to doing what she loves after being treated for a hernia at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital. Frankly, a hernia wasn't even on her radar.

"I had a lot of misconceptions about hernias," Rhodes said. "I thought it was just something you got when you tried to lift something too heavy."

A hernia is a common medical condition that occurs when part of an internal organ or tissue pushes through a weak area of muscle, creating a bulge.

After having colon resection surgery, Rhodes, a Montgomery native, develop a such a bulge on the left side of her stomach.

"A friend of mine who works in the medical field told me that I had a hernia," Rhodes said.

Most hernias occur in the abdomen, between the chest and the hips, and they can develop in men, women and children, often from a combination of muscle weakness and straining, like lifting something heavy. Some people are born with weak abdominal muscles and therefore may be more likely to develop a hernia. The most common treatment for a hernia is surgery to repair the opening in the muscle wall. Untreated hernias tend to keep growing, often causing pain and health problems.

Rhodes scheduled an appointment with Britney Corey, M.D., and Abhishek Parmer, M.D., both assistant professors in the Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery, and had her hernia repaired on March 4, 2019.

Corey says that people with a prior incision or operation in the abdominal area are at higher risk for developing a hernia.

Any factors that put increased pressure on those areas like obesity and pregnancy, as well as factors that weaken your tissues or decrease wound healing, such as diabetes and nicotine use, will increase your risk. And sometimes people form hernias and we just don't know why."

Britney Corey, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery, UAB

Corey says that, if someone is pregnant and develops a hernia, individualized care is recommended, with surgery typically put on hold until after pregnancy.

"Future pregnancies may put the hernia repair at risk," she said.

Parmar says treating patients with hernias is like having a chess match. It takes a thoughtful approach to think about the downstream effects.

"The real art of hernia care at UAB is that we really try to keep the whole picture in mind and consider how hernia surgery might affect a patient, not just immediately, but for the rest of their life," he said. "We consider the whole patient and, with the help of many other doctors, try to give patients the best chances of succeeding with surgery. That's one of the benefits of being at an academic institution like UAB."

Once diagnosed with a hernia, patients are usually referred to a surgeon. Post-surgery, patients may stay in the hospital for a few days or go home the same day of the procedure.

"Patients usually can resume normal activities quickly, with lifting restrictions for two to six weeks," Corey said.

Rhodes, a retired librarian, said her care at UAB was top-notch, and now she is able to do things that she loves again, like swim 40 laps at her local pool.

"I thought my care was wonderful," she said. "Dr. Corey and Parmar were very professional, informative and intentional."

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