What Should I Eat If I Have a Hernia?

If you have a hernia, you may need to change your diet to manage symptoms.
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Hernia got you down? Nothing you eat can cure a hernia, but depending on the type of hernia you have, making certain dietary choices may help keep symptoms at bay. Here's a look at foods that aggravate hernias.

A hernia forms when there is a weakness or hole in a portion of muscle tissue near an organ, and part of that organ bulges or pushes through the hole, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Most people need surgery to repair a hernia, and hernias do not usually get better on their own, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

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But experts say avoiding or incorporating certain types of foods could, in some cases, prevent a hernia from getting bigger and more painful.

Inguinal and Umbilical Hernias

Most hernias happen in the groin or in the abdominal area, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). As a result, an abnormal-looking lump arises under the skin. The most common type, called an inguinal hernia, develops in the groin area.

Umbilical hernias, which form around the belly button, are particularly common in infants, but adults can develop them, too. Such abdominal hernias can be aggravated by bloating and constipation, says Mary Ann Hopkins, MD, a general surgeon at NYU Langone Health and an associate professor of surgery at NYU's Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.

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Avoid foods "that will cause you to bloat, as that will push out on the abdominal wall and cause discomfort in the hernia," Dr. Hopkins says. You also want to avoid constipation because this leads to straining the abdominal muscles when going to the bathroom, potentially pushing the intestinal tissue further into the abdominal wall, AAFP notes.

Here are ways to alter your diet to solve both problems.

Avoiding foods that create bloat.​ While the causes of the full-belly feeling called bloat vary from person to person, it can result from eating too many gassy foods, according to the Mayo Clinic. Some potentially gas-inducing foods to limit are:

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  • Dairy.
  • Beans, dried peas and lentils.
  • Cabbage and other cruciferous veggies.
  • Onions and garlic.
  • Whole grains.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Certain fruits (apples, pears, apricots, nectarines and plums).
  • Beer and carbonated drinks.
  • Chewing gum and candies.

It's equally important to eat and drink even non-gassy foods slowly and thoroughly to avoid swallowing a lot of air, a common consequence of gulping down your meals, which can also cause bloat.

Read more:7 Foods That Cause Gas (That Aren't Beans)

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Fight constipation with fiber.​ Avoiding constipation is also preventive — chronic constipation can increase the risk of developing a hernia in the first place, according to the NLM.

To fight constipation, the NIDDK recommends eating more high-fiber foods, including berries, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes — yes, the same beans, peas and lentils that can cause gas. Because whole grains and some veggies are also on the list of foods that can cause bloating, it's important to introduce them gradually into your diet to avoid replacing one problem with another.

These tips from Johns Hopkins Medicine may also help you avoid constipation:

  • Drink lots of water.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Go to the bathroom when you feel the urge.

Hiatal Hernias Are Different

With a hiatal hernia, the upper part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm (the muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest), allowing its acid to easily enter the esophagus, the Cleveland Clinic says. It is sometimes accompanied by symptoms that resemble chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) like heartburn, regurgitation and difficulty swallowing.

You may be able to control the pain and discomfort of a hiatal hernia in the same way you would tame GERD, according to the Clinic, by avoiding or limiting these foods and beverages:

  • Acidic foods, including tomato sauce and citrus fruits and juices.
  • Fried and fatty foods.
  • Caffeine.
  • Peppermint.
  • Carbonated beverages.
  • Alcoholic beverages.
  • Ketchup and mustard.
  • Vinegar.

Most hernias will not disappear on their own, and surgery is often needed at some point, NLM says. Work with your doctor on the best strategy for you.

Read more:Exercising With a Hernia

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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