Abdominal pain and constipation can be frustratingly confusing symptoms. Sometimes, they don’t even amount to anything and are harmless. Other times, they can be early signs of different health problems like hernia or hemorrhoids. If you don't know the difference between a hernia and hemorrhoids, keep reading this article to learn more about them!
The organs of our body are kept in place with the help of tissues and muscle. Hernias are protrusions of organs through weakened or defective muscle tissue. A defect in the cavity wall inside which an organ is located allows the organ to rest in an abnormal position. A hernia can commonly be caused when congenital disabilities or a surgical treatment renders muscles in a weakened form.
Although not always life-threatening, hernias still require surgery to rectify the conformation of organs. There are different types of surgeries available. Depending on the type of hernia, doctors tailor a surgery that best fits the patient's condition. These include open surgeries, laparoscopic surgeries, and cutting-edge robotic hernia repair.
The most common hernia types include the following:
- Umbilical hernia: Commonly affecting babies, umbilical hernia occurs when the intestines bulge through the abdominal wall near the navel. This gives the belly button a bulged or swollen look. Umbilical hernias can also affect adults. This type of hernia usually goes away without treatment as the abdominal muscles strengthen up.
- Inguinal hernia: It is the most common type of hernia. Intestines can push through a weakened spot or tear in the lower abdominal muscles and cause an inguinal hernia. The name is derived from the inguinal canal, which provides the spermatic cord a passageway from the lower abdomen to the scrotum. This type of hernia is more common in men since the testicles descend through the canal after birth. The intestines can bulge from the weakened area if the canal doesn't close properly.
- Hiatal Hernia: It occurs when part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm into the thoracic cavity. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that helps the lungs relax and contract. It also separates the lungs from the abdominal organs.
Other hernia types include incisional, femoral, ventral, and epigastric hernias.
The leading cause of hernia is the strain on weakened muscles. Muscles can be weakened due to external stress, or they can be innately defective since birth. Old age is also a significant factor in causing a hernia.
Strenuous exercise and heavy weightlifting for extended periods of time can weaken the muscles of the abdomen and groin. Other types of strains include constipation and obesity, which increase abdominal strain. Chronic coughing and pregnancy are also associated with hernia.
External factors also include having multiple surgeries or smoking. Smoking can weaken the connective tissues of the body, while multiple surgeries can cause scarring and weakness of the muscles.
The most noticeable symptoms of hernia include the presence of a lump or bulge that goes away when a person lies down. The bulge can also be pushed back in when one applies pressure. Depending on the location of a hernia, swelling or bulge can be present near the groin, thighs, navel, or abdomen.
Other symptoms include pain or discomfort at the site of swelling, pain while lifting weights, and a constant dull aching sensation. In some cases, the symptoms might not be present at all.
Consequently, there can be specific symptoms of hernia depending on its type. For example, Hiatal hernias almost always cause GERD, heartburn, indigestion, and difficulty swallowing.
Hemorrhoids are very different from a hernia. Commonly known as Piles, they are a type of benign anorectal disease and are accompanied by swelling or inflammation of the veins of the anus. Although quite painful, hemorrhoids are not life-threatening and usually do not require surgical treatment.
They are divided into three types:
- Internal Hemorrhoids: Inflamed veins inside the anal walls cause internal hemorrhoids. They are usually painless but can progress into Classes II, III, and IV type internal hemorrhoids. Pain can progressively become worse with each successive class type. Class IV hemorrhoids are the worst and can also prolapse. In this case, hemorrhoids protrude from the anus and cannot be pushed back in.
- External Hemorrhoids: These are very painful and can be observed outside the anus. They look like swollen rubbery lumps that are painful to touch. External hemorrhoids can cause boil-like skin tags to form. The skin tags can contract bacterial infections and fill up with pus.
- Thrombosed Hemorrhoids: These form when the veins of a hemorrhoid develop clots. Thrombosed hemorrhoids look like red or blue lumps that are warm to the touch. They can swell more than normal hemorrhoids and are severely painful. Blood clots can also increase blood pressure and cause hemorrhoids to burst.
Hemorrhoids are caused by trauma to the walls of the anus. The veins of the anus become inflamed due to the pressure from the trauma. Most commonly, hemorrhoids are caused due to prolonged periods of sitting on the toilet, which exerts unnecessary pressure on the anus.
Hemorrhoids are also associated with strained or forced bowel movements. Commonly known triggers also include fetal pressure during pregnancy, chronic constipation and diarrhea, anal intercourse, and liver cirrhosis due to alcoholism. Rare causes can include obesity and irregular bowel movements.
Rectal bleeding is one of the most common symptoms of hemorrhoids. It is prevalent in all three types of hemorrhoids. Other symptoms of internal hemorrhoids include itching or irritation of the anus. Pain and discomfort generally accompany hemorrhoids. Pain can gradually increase in severity if the hemorrhoids do not go away on their own.
Depending on the type of hemorrhoids, rubber-like lumps can be observed. Blood can be observed in the stool or on tissue wipes. Painful bowel movements are an essential indicator. Hemorrhoids can cause a lot of pain when sitting down. In some cases, the presence of boil-like skin tags or pus-filled abscesses also signals the presence of hemorrhoids.
We hope this article helped you learn the difference between a hernia and hemorrhoids. If you are experiencing the abovementioned symptoms, consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis!