Can You Die from A Hernia?

Actually, a hernia is the result of a tear or hole in the abdominal fascia, the layer /sheet of strong connective tissue where the muscles of your abdominal wall sit on. Once this hole forms, it usually will not repair itself without surgical intervention. Interestingly, treatment is also not always necessary. But can you die from a hernia?


The symptoms of hernias can vary. But typically, the specific symptoms that appear are dependent on where the hole occurs. For examples, hiatal (hiatus) hernias are usually characterized by discomforts associated with acid reflux such as heartburn and sometimes pain in the chest area. Inguinal hernias often cause discomforts such as weakness, pressures, pain, heavy-dragging sensation, or aching sensation in the groin area.

A number of tests are available to help diagnose hernias. But physical examination is often enough to make correct diagnosis – particularly if there is an obvious bulge (swelling) in the areas commonly associated with hernia, which usually gets smaller with lying down and becomes more obvious with straining.

In most cases, no bulge or swelling to feel /see means ‘no hernia’. But sometimes the bulge is not always obvious, especially in women (see more this topic in here)!

Reducible and non-reducible hernias

The bulge of hernia occurs when the abdominal tissues or contents protrude through the hole in the abdominal wall fascia. Typically, it looks clearly (larger in size) when you’re coughing or doing any activities that put more pressure on your abdominal wall such as standing, straining, and walking. On the other hand, it usually disappears (looks smaller in size) if you’re lying down or when your abdominal pressure is reduced. It may also be easy to be popped back with manual pressure. This is also called a reducible hernia.

Sometimes a hernia may become resistant with manual pressure. This is called a non-reducible hernia, when the abdominal contents become trapped and the bulge doesn’t respond with manual pressure (you lose the ability to manually push the bulge back into the abdomen). Treatment for a non-reducible hernia is necessary. Many times it is more painful and may cause serious complications if left untreated.

What causes the problem?

Hernias are quite common. Though they are more common in men, they can also sometimes affect women and even children. In most cases, children’s hernias are congenital (present from birth). In adults, hernias are usually acquired over the course of their lives.

Naturally, the abdominal wall fascia weakens as we age. Areas of weakness in the abdominal wall fascia may also develop as a result of various factors and conditions. These include obesity, childbirth, injuries, surgeries, frequently heavy lifting or straining, chronic constipation, chronic coughing, prostate problems, or something else.

Treatment options

In mild cases, when the hernia is not large or not causing any discomforts, watchful waiting is usually recommended to wait and see what happens. This doesn’t mean you can ignore the disease. To keep safe, the disease should be regularly monitored. Also, you need to control the disease and prevent it from worsening (see also what ‘Not to Do’ with hernia)!

But when the disease starts bothering you, tell your doctor! Some non-surgical medications are available to help cope with hernia symptoms.

The goal of non-surgical treatments for hernia is to help relieve the symptoms, not to cure the disease. Again, once a hole forms in the abdominal wall fascia, it doesn’t close on its own without surgical intervention. Because fascia is not able to regrow and repair the hole!

If the disease and its symptoms worsen, also if it doesn’t respond with lifestyle measures and non-surgical treatments, surgical procedures are usually required. There are several different types of surgery for hernia such as open hernia surgery and laparoscopy – each type has pros and cons!

So, can people die from hernias?

A hernia may enlarge over time, causing pressure on surrounding tissues. In worse situation, the abdominal tissues /contents get stuck (trapped) in the weak point of the abdominal wall fascia. This is called an incarcerated (non-reducible) hernia.

An incarcerated hernia is dangerous if not immediately treated. For example, if a part of the intestine gets trapped in the hernia, this can obstruct your digestive tract and cause a number of serious complications such as severe pain and difficulty to pass stools. If your bowel is completely obstructed, you’re unable to have a bowel movement or even pass gas. Without immediate treatment, an incarcerated hernia may turn into serous and cause an emergency strangulation – and this process can occur quickly (within hours).

A strangulated hernia, a condition of when the blood supply to the part of the affected intestine is cut off, can be life-threatening and therefore immediate surgery is required. If left untreated, strangulation results in tissue death very quickly. This rapid process can release lots of chemicals and toxins into the bloodstream, causing blood poisoning (also called ‘septicemia’) and ultimately death.

The large number of toxins released into the circulation can trigger widespread inflammation, leading to organ damage. Also, septicemia may cause blood clots that inhibit and decrease blood flow (including oxygen and nutrients) to your internal organs, causing one or more organ failures in severe cases. Even in the worst situations, a septic shock (a life-threatening, serious drop in blood pressure) occurs – it can be fatal because it can rapidly cause the failure of more than one organ (such as liver, lungs, and kidneys).

Since a strangulated hernia is an emergency condition, be especially alert (see a doctor without delay) if you experience some of the following situations: