Can Coughing Cause a Hernia?

The body likes to compartmentalize and keep each of its components in its own areas. However, in some cases, a tissue may protrude somewhere that it doesn’t belong, which is called a hernia. 

Hernias develop due to muscle weakness and strain, with a common cause of strain to the abdomen being coughing. Coughing can not only cause a hernia to become more pronounced and noticeable, but for those with a chronic cough, it may cause a hernia. 

What Is a Hernia?

A hernia occurs when a piece of tissue bulges through an area of the body where it doesn’t belong. The most common types of hernias occur due to a weak point in someone’s abdominal wall. 

The abdomen is full of layers of muscle and tissue that protect your inner organs. However, sometimes a gap will form within these layers, which bits of the abdomen’s contents can push through.  

Hernia Types

There are many different types of hernias, as listed below, and the most common hernias occur in the belly or groin areas. 

Epigastric Hernia

An epigastric hernia occurs above the belly button and below the rib cage, which is the epigastric region of the abdomen. These hernias occur when a gap between the two sides of abdominal muscles allows fat tissue to push through. 

These are the most common type of abdominal hernia, accounting for 2 out of every 3 cases. 

These hernias are often small and don’t cause symptoms, but some larger hernias may cause symptoms that require surgery. 

Hiatal Hernia

A hiatal hernia occurs when someone’s stomach bulges through the diaphragm, which plays an essential role in breathing. 

Some symptoms of a hiatal hernia include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn. 

Depending on the hernia’s location, they are classified by class I-IV, with most hiatal hernias being type I. With a type I hiatal hernia, the stomach remains in position, but the part where the stomach meets the esophagus slides above the diaphragm. 

In most cases, treatment is only needed for those experiencing symptoms. 

Femoral Hernia

A femoral hernia occurs in the groin or inner thigh when tissue pushes through a weak point, and it can often feel like a small- to medium-sized lump. 

These hernias are relatively rare, accounting for only 2%-4% of all groin-area hernias. They are very rare in children, and are more common in women than men because of the larger width of a female’s pelvis. 

Since the femoral artery and vein are nearby, these types of hernias can sometimes be a cause of concern, potentially blocking blood flow to or from the leg. Because of this, femoral hernias are typically corrected quickly with surgery. 

Umbilical Hernia

An umbilical hernia involves tissues in the body bulging through a weakness in the belly button. With this type of hernia, the visible bulge often worsens when coughing or straining during a bowel movement.

Incisional Hernia

An incisional hernia occurs after surgery, typically one that requires an incision down the center of the stomach. This type of hernia occurs in around 15 to 20% of those who undergo abdominal surgery. 

Inguinal Hernia

With an inguinal hernia, a portion of the intestines or fat protrudes through the lower stomach wall, typically through the inguinal canal, which is located in the groin area. In women, an inguinal hernia may contain part of the female reproductive organs. 

Since there is a risk that parts of the small intestine are contained in the hernia, these hernias typically require a surgical repair. 

Who Is at Risk of Getting a Hernia?

Some of the greatest risk factors for a hernia include weightlifting, pregnancy, weight gain, and constipation, which are all factors that put increasing strain on the abdomen and groin.

However, risk factors can also vary based on the type of hernia. For example, an incisional hernia has additional risk factors of:

  • complications during or after surgery, including infection
  • requiring emergency surgery
  • having certain chronic conditions, including kidney failure and diabetes
  • smoking
  • taking certain long-term medications, including immunosuppressants and steroids

Can You Get a Hernia from Coughing?

A hernia results from a combination of muscle weakness and strain, and it may develop over a long period of time in some while they form quickly in others. 

While a single case of coughing is unlikely to cause a hernia, chronic coughing can cause a significant amount of strain to the abdominal muscles. When coupled with muscle weakness, this can lead to a hernia. 

This places those with conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), which is characterized by a chronic cough, at an increased risk of hernia. 

While regular coughing is much less likely to cause a hernia, it is common for a hernia to become more pronounced when coughing. This is why many people may think that their coughing has caused a hernia. 

Hernia Symptoms

The most common and noticeable symptom of a hernia is a lump or bulge in the affected area, which can vary based on the type of hernia. Additionally, those with a hernia may find that the lump disappears when lying down, but is easier to feel when coughing, standing up, or bending over. 

When To See a Doctor?

While most hernias do not go away on their own, small hernias that do not cause any symptoms are often left alone, with a doctor watching them to ensure they can still fit back through the abdominal wall. 

However, for larger hernias and those that cause symptoms, a doctor may need to perform surgery. 

Additionally, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • you cannot push the hernia back in
  • your hernia appears to get larger, is hard, or looks swollen
  • there is a sharp, increasing pain at the hernia site
  • the skin around the hernia is red
  • a fever

Get Help from An Online Doctor

If you suspect you have a hernia, meeting with an online doctor is a great way to receive guidance on if you need to seek emergency medical attention or if it is safe to leave your hernia alone. With DrHouse, you can meet with a doctor in as little as 15 minutes from the comfort of your home, allowing you to quickly discuss your symptoms and determine what your next actions should be. 

Key Takeaways

A hernia occurs when a piece of tissue bulges into an area where it doesn’t belong, most commonly occurring in the abdominal and groin area. There are many types of hernias, but they typically result from a combination of muscle weakness and straining. 

One action which causes excessive strain to the abdomen is coughing, which is why chronic coughing can cause a hernia. In most cases, a hernia will not go away on its own, but they also do not commonly cause symptoms. If symptoms do appear, it is crucial to seek medical attention, such as with an online doctor, to determine what the next steps should be. 

Sources

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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