Can You Die from a Hernia? [Plus Causes and Treatments]

Can you die from a hernia? Hernias vary in size and seriousness. Many people can live with a hernia for a lifetime. In this article, I’ll describe whether you can die from a hernia, as well as the various causes and treatments.

Can people die from a hernia? You can die from a hernia if it becomes strangulated and prevents blood from flowing to the tissues. However, a strangulated hernia is not common. There are many types of hernias, and most of them allow you to live without any treatment.

It is when complications develop when they become life-threatening. If there is any doubt, it is always best to see a doctor for an assessment.

Read on to learn more about hernias, their types, signs and symptoms, and how to treat them.

Can You Die from a Hernia? 

A hernia develops when an organ or some other tissue pushes through a weakness in one of the muscle walls, usually the abdomen. Hernias often occur anywhere in between your chest and hips. However, hernias can also occur in the groin area and upper thighs.

As mentioned earlier, you can die from a hernia if it cuts off the blood supply to the tissues and intestines in the abdomen. Once it starts getting worse, you will feel pain near the hernia. If left untreated, it would be possible to die from this type of hernia.

Patients with uncomplicated abdominal hernias do well. However, mortality is 10% for those who have a hernia that has become strangulated. [1]

It is vital to know the signs and symptoms of a hernia and seek medical attention if you suspect it. Your doctor will give you an assessment and recommend what treatment is best. A hernia will not go away by itself.

The earlier the diagnosis, the better so that a course of treatment can be started. Lifestyle changes can minimize and ease symptoms. Surgery, however, is the only effective way to treat a hernia. Talk to your surgeon and discuss the type of surgery that is best for you. Many kinds of surgeries can be done.

Hernias may cause some complications that can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you experience nausea, vomiting, fever, or sudden pain, it’s best to immediately seek emergency care.

Basically, there are many kinds of hernias, and if the hernia is in no way stuck and not causing any tissue damage, then you can live with it for a lifetime. But if there’s cell death due to strangulation from the hernia, it could lead to an infection or even sepsis. This condition can lead to death.

The key here is to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you have a hernia for proper assessment and treatment.

Can you die from a hernia operation? The chance of dying from a hernia operation is minimal, even at old age. An emergency operation, however, carries a higher risk of mortality. [2]

Types of Hernias 

There are many types of hernias. Hernias may be present right after birth or may develop anytime in one’s lifetime. The most common hernias are abdominal hernias. They may occur in the groin area, the diaphragm, and the belly button area.

Your abdominal wall has many layers of muscles and tissues. There may be defective spots in your abdomen that allow the contents of the abdomen to herniate.

can a hernia kill you

Here are the different types of hernias:

1. Hernias That Occur in the Abdominal and Pelvic Floor

Inguinal Hernias

This type is the most common among abdominal hernias. Its development may actually start from the fetal stage. As a male fetus develops, a canal allows the spermatic cord and testicle to descend from the abdomen to the scrotum. When the testicles have descended, that canal should tightly close, but there are times that they don’t because of a weakened area.

If there is stress or pressure in that area later in life, the weak tissues can enable a small part of the bowel to slip through the opening. This opening creates a bulge, which causes pain. Inguinal hernias are very less likely to occur in females. Although females have an inguinal canal, they do not have an opening to allow the testicles’ descent.

Femoral Hernias

These hernias may occur in both males and females, but it happens 10 times more in females. The reason is that femoral hernias occur in the abdominal floor opening, where the femoral artery and vein pass through from the abdomen to the leg. Females tend to get femoral hernias more often than males because they have a wider bone structure in the hip area. 

Obturator Hernias

These hernias are not as common as the first two. They usually occur in the obturator canal area, which connects the abdominal cavity to the leg. The canal holds the obturator artery, nerve, and vein. This type of hernia occurs mostly in women who have had multiple pregnancies or have lost significant weight.

2. Hernias That Occur in the Anterior Abdominal Wall

Epigastric Hernias

This hernia is in between your belly button and breastbone, in the midline. An epigastric hernia can cause pain and occurs both in infants and adults. Some pieces of fat, bowel, or omentum get trapped in the hernia.

Umbilical Hernias

This kind of hernia is common in newborns. They often do not require immediate treatment unless complications develop. These hernias occur in the belly button, causing a belly button to bulge and enlarge. Unless there are complications later in life, no surgery is required.

Incisional Hernias

These hernias arise as complications from surgery in the abdomen. During abdominal surgery, a surgeon cuts the abdominal muscles to reach into the abdominal cavity. The cut abdominal muscles are repaired, but sometimes, weakness can occur there, and hernias may develop due to the muscles’ weakening. If it goes untreated, this kind of hernia most certainly can lead to death.

Spigelian Hernias

This kind of hernia is rare. It occurs outside the rectus abdominis muscle and appears on the edges.

Hernias that occur in the diaphragm are as follows:

  • Hiatal Hernias – There’s a diaphragm opening that connects to the stomach so that the esophagus can pass from the chest to the abdomen. These hernias occur when some parts of the stomach slip through this opening. 
  • Sliding Hiatal Hernias – This type is the most common hernia in the diaphragm. It happens when some parts of the stomach and the lower esophagus slip through the diaphragm to the chest. 
  • Paraesophageal Hernias – These hernias can happen when some parts of the stomach breach into the chest beside the esophagus. This kind of hernia can cause serious complications like bowel obstruction or stomach rotation.
  • Traumatic Diaphragmatic Hernias – These hernias happen because of a significant injury from blunt trauma that tears or creates weakness to the diaphragm muscle. The trauma makes herniation of organs in the abdomen into the chest cavity either immediately or slightly delayed. It may also happen from a gunshot wound or a stab wound, usually in the left diaphragm. The right diaphragm has the liver right under it, and it protects organs from herniation. 
  • Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernias – These hernias occur when the diaphragm fails to close completely during fetal development. These hernias are very rare. When the diaphragm fails to close completely, the lungs may also fail to develop completely. This condition can lead to decreased lung function as the abdominal organs may move to the chest. The Bochdalek hernia is the most common, while the Morgagni hernia is the rare one. 

We’ve answered the question, ‘can you die from a hernia”; next, let’s look at what causes hernias.

What Causes Hernias?

Now that we know that an immediate and proper diagnosis is vital to get the right treatment for hernias and that all of them are treatable let’s see what causes them.

can people die from a hernia

Hernias arise from the combination of weakening of the muscles and strain. The weakening of the muscles and strain may be due to any of the following: 

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Aging
  • Congenital factors that may happen during the development of a fetus
  • An injury 
  • Surgery
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic coughing
  • Rigorous exercise
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Constipation causing strain on your bowels
  • Fluid in the abdomen

Your risk of getting a hernia increases with the following factors:

  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Family history of hernias
  • Obesity
  • Prolonged constipation
  • Chronic cough
  • Smoking
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Premature birth and low birth weight

Symptoms of Hernias

In a lot of cases, hernias will have no symptoms. Most hernias cause no pain too. And it is rare for someone to die from a hernia. Their detection will be from routine medical check-ups or probably even from a doctor’s consultation for an entirely unrelated problem.

Hernia’s most common symptom is having a lump or bulge in the affected area. Sometimes, the lump may disappear when you change positions – like when you lie down. The bulge may look obvious when you’re coughing, standing up, or bending. Some hernias may only be visible when you’re laughing, sneezing, coughing, or lifting. There may also be some form of discomfort around the lump area.

Some hernias may only cause pain and discomfort when they have grown in size. You may experience tenderness, sharp pain, and sometimes a pulling sensation in the area. Seek the advice of a healthcare provider if you strongly believe you have a hernia. Leaving it untreated may hinder you from doing your usual activities, such as working or exercising.

Treating a Hernia and Recovery

You may be referred to a surgeon, particularly if you have a hernia that is getting bigger or is causing much discomfort or pain. The surgery will usually fix the hernia by sewing the abdominal wall opening where the hernia is protruding. The hole is patched with surgical mesh.

Your surgeon will determine what kind of surgery is best. It may be open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopy is a surgery that requires only some small incisions and is less invasive. A small camera and tiny surgical equipment are inserted in the small incisions to fix the hernia.

For open surgery, the surgeon makes a larger incision near the hernia site. He will push the tissues surrounding the area to repair the hernia itself. After this, the incised area is sewn closed.

Recovering from the surgery will take time. You will probably be on a course of antibiotics following an open surgery or laparoscopic surgery to avoid any infection. He will also tell you what activities you temporarily need to avoid, such as lifting heavy weights, strenuous exercise, jogging, etc.

Remember, it is important to seek advice from your doctor if you have signs and symptoms of a hernia or suspect you have one. Hernias can cause complications that may be life-threatening if left untreated. 

If you have had surgery to address a hernia, the prognosis is usually very good. It usually gets better after surgery, and it is very seldom to require another one.

Conclusion – Can a Hernia Kill You?

Hernias occur when there’s a weakening of the muscles and/or strain. It can develop from birth or later in life. 

Some hernias will not require any treatment at all, and sometimes, you can have them for a lifetime without having any treatment. But if you have signs and symptoms of a hernia, it’s always best to see a doctor.

Some hernias will cause complications. No hernia will ever go away by itself. If the hernia gets larger, causing complications, pain, and discomfort, surgery is the only way to treat it.

Can you die from a hernia in your stomach or other parts of your body? You can die from a hernia if it is left untreated, and you develop complications from it. However, there are many types of hernias, and most of them allow you to live without any treatment. It is when complications develop when they become life-threatening.

If you notice that you have a bulge that is growing, and you feel any pain or discomfort around it, consult a doctor.

Remember, a hernia will never go away by itself. If you believe you have signs and symptoms of a hernia, it is always best to see a doctor. Early detection is always the key. A doctor will discuss with you your options and the best way to treat your condition.