Your internal organs and tissues are separated into compartments. Weakness in a separating "wall" can lead to a hernia -- a condition wherein internal tissues bulge into an area where they are not normally found. There are many types of hernias, but the overwhelming majority in men occur in the groin. The signs and symptoms of a hernia in a male vary depending on the site, size and severity of the hernia. Symptoms often develop gradually but may occur suddenly after heavy lifting or straining.
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Most hernias occur in the groin, and men have a much higher lifetime risk of developing a groin hernia compared to women. The most common sign is a soft lump in the groin, which may initially be noticeable only when coughing or straining. Groin hernias tend to be small at first -- often smaller than the tip of the thumb -- but increase in size over time to golf-ball size or larger. Hernia lumps in men usually develop over the pubic bone just to the side of the genitals. The scrotum on the affected side may also be larger. Less commonly, a groin hernia causes a lump lower in the groin, at the crease where the leg and hip meet. Hernia lumps often disappear when lying down.
Discomfort and Pain
Discomfort or pain is the leading symptom of a groin hernia, occurring in approximately two-thirds of men, according to an August 2001 study published in the "Journal of the American College of Surgeons." The pain is often described as dull, mild or achy. It may be brought on by strenuous physical work or prolonged standing. It is typically felt in the lower abdomen or groin, and may extend into the scrotum or inner thigh. Some men report feeling pressure or heaviness rather than frank pain. A hernia that develops suddenly may cause sharp pain. Lying down or holding pressure on a hernia lump often alleviates the discomfort or pain.
Although groin hernias predominate in men, other external and internal hernias can occur. External, abdominal wall hernias can develop around or above the navel or at the site of surgery scars, with a lump and local pain or discomfort similar to a groin hernia. Symptoms of these hernias also often go away when lying down. Both men and women can have an internal hiatus hernia, wherein the tube that carries food to the stomach bulges into the chest cavity. A hiatus hernia often causes frequent heartburn.
When to See a Doctor
If you suspect you have a hernia -- whether symptoms have been present for a while or have come on suddenly -- make an appointment with your doctor for diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Uncommonly, a portion of the bowel becomes trapped in a hernia opening, cutting off the blood supply to the affected segment of the bowel. This condition, known as a strangulated hernia, is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment. Signs and symptoms include a sudden increase in the size of the hernia lump, severe pain and tenderness at the site of the hernia, nausea, vomiting and fever.