External hernias of the abdominal wall usually present as a swelling noticed by the patient or detected routinely on examination by a doctor.

This swelling may or may not come or go, but often occur when the person is standing up or straining. The hernia may disappear at night when lying down or when it is pushed in.

There may be discomfort or pain present.

What is the lump

The lump detected is made up of contents from within the abdomen, which are out of their normal place. This may consist of fat, omental fat, bowel – small or large. Rarely other organs such as bladder, ovary or even appendix may be trapped.

What may happen to the lump

Apart from inconvenience and discomfort, hernias are important because they tend to enlarge and develop complications.

There are some basic terms, which are important in describing hernias. 

1. Reducible – that is the hernia disappears back into the abdomen temporarily.

2. Irreducible – that is the hernia cannot be pushed back into the abdomen.

3. Incarcerated – that is the hernia is irreducible and painful. This term suggesting that the hernia is becoming dangerous.

4. Obstructed – that is the bowel in the sac is becoming blocked but is not dead. There is usually pain and vomiting.

5. Strangulated – the hernia has had its blood supply clamped off and the contents such as bowel or fat are in the process of dying. Urgent surgical correction is required for this.