7 Subtle Signs You May Have a Hernia

Updated: Jan. 27, 2021

This condition, where tissue protrudes through a weakening in your muscle lining, can be incredibly painful. But identifying the symptoms early can help you minimize your suffering and get the treatment you need faster.

woman holding her stomach
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A bulge in the abdomen

A hernia occurs when part of an organ or tissue pushes outside its normal cavity and into an area of the body where it doesn’t belong. For example, this can happen with the intestines, which can bulge through a weak point in the abdominal cavity. The most common sign of a hernia is a painful, visible lump or protrusion in your abdominal area. But that’s not the only indication that you could be experiencing this common and sometimes painful—and potentially dangerous—condition. Following are some other hernia symptoms that you’re much more likely to ignore. Plus, learn some other easy-to-miss signs your body could be in big trouble.

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Pain while bending over or lifting heavy objects

Pain and discomfort in your abdomen can signal a hernia even if you don’t see a bulge. In particular, if you feel pain, pressure, or discomfort while bending down, lifting things, or coughing, you might want to talk to your doctor. Hernias can also manifest themselves in the form of an uncomfortable tightness in your abdomen or groin. Some rare types of hernias—such as femoral or obturator hernias, in which a part of the bowel pushes into the groin or upper leg—are less likely to reveal themselves in the form of lumps; diagnosing these types can require a CT scan. Here are some more reasons you might have abdominal pain.

woman eating an English breakfast (beans, ham, tomatoes) and coffee

Feeling full

This is one of the most easily overlooked hernia symptoms since it’s so easy to confuse with actually being full. However: According to Cleveland Clinic, the most common type—the inguinal hernia—occurs in the lower abdominal or groin area; it can be painful, or it may leave you with the sensation that you just finished Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re feeling bloated and heavy and you haven’t overeaten—especially if the feeling worsens or becomes painful—get checked for a hernia. Here are some more reasons you could be experiencing bloating.

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Muscle pain

Once you have a hernia, the pressure on surrounding areas can lead to a greater sense of muscle fatigue and pain. If you’re feeling pain—especially in the muscles of your upper leg and groin—a hernia might be to blame.

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Nausea or vomiting

Abdominal issues like an upset stomach or vomiting can be a sign that a hernia is becoming serious. Herniated tissue that doesn’t heal or return to where it belongs is considered “incarcerated,” which means it’s trapped, and that can lead to nausea and/or vomiting. According to an article published in Annals of Translational Medicine, what’s known as acute incarcerated hernia is a pretty common surgical emergency. Fortunately advances have been made in what they describe as “minimally invasive devices and techniques,” so laparoscopic surgery can be used in some cases for treatment.

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You should always take a fever seriously, but if it’s accompanied by other hernia symptoms you need to get to the ER right away. It could mean the herniated tissue is strangulated—it’s not getting any blood flow—and that’s a potentially life-threatening situation.

white toilet paper on a roll
Stanislav Makhalov/Shutterstock


Constipation can cause hernias. But, occasionally, it’s also a symptom: Your large intestine can herniate, and that can block digestion. The result will be constipation and difficulty passing gas, according to a study by Harran University. In some cases, the piece of bowel can even swell and become strangulated, a condition that usually requires a surgical procedure to fix. Here are some secrets surgeons won’t tell you.

woman holding center of chest and stomach while sitting on bed


A hiatal hernia can strike your upper abdomen, and it has very different hernia symptoms, starting with heartburn or chest pain, according to Mayo Clinic. A piece of your stomach squeezes through weak tissue into your diaphragm; escaped stomach acid can inflame the area. The result will be a burning sensation that feels remarkably like heartburn. Learn some other reasons you definitely shouldn’t ignore heartburn.