A abdominal hernia is the protrusion of an organ or the fascia of an organ through the wall of the cavity that normally contains it. A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach protrudes into the mediastinum through the esophageal opening in the diaphragm.

By far the most common herniae develop in the abdomen(abdominal hernia), when a weakness in the abdominal wall evolves into a localized hole, or “defect”, through which adipose tissue, or abdominal organs covered with peritoneum, may protrude. Another common hernia involves the spinal discs and causes sciatica.

Abdominal herniae may or may not present either with pain at the site, a visible or palpable lump, or in some cases by more vague symptoms resulting from pressure on an organ which has become “stuck” in the hernia, sometimes leading to organ dysfunction. Fatty tissue usually enters a abdominal hernia first, but it may be followed by or accompanied by an organ.

Most of the time, herniae develop when pressure in the compartment of the residing organ is increased, and the boundary is weak or weakened.

Weakening of containing membranes or muscles is usually congenital (which explains part of the tendency of herniae to run in families), and increases with age (for example, degeneration of the annulus fibrosus of the intervertebral disc), but it may be on the basis of other illnesses, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or Marfan syndrome, stretching of muscles during pregnancy, losing weight in obese people, etc., or because of scars from previous surgery.

Many conditions chronically increase intra-abdominal pressure, (pregnancy, ascites, COPD, dyschezia, benign prostatic hypertrophy) and hence abdominal hernias are very frequent. Increased intracranial pressure can cause parts of the brain to herniate through narrowed portions of the cranial cavity or through the foramen magnum. Increased pressure on the intervertebral discs, as produced by heavy lifting or lifting with improper technique, increases the risk of herniation.

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