How a Persistent Cough Can Lead to a Hernia

How a Persistent Cough Can Lead to a Hernia

Whether you have a persistent cough resulting from a medical condition — such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — because you’re a smoker, or for other reasons, coughing too much or too strongly can cause a hernia. A hernia occurs when part of an internal organ or other type of tissue pushes through weakened muscle. 

Hernia may cause pain and can sometimes be life-threatening. Skilled and compassionate bariatric surgeon Michael Sutker, MD, classifies and treats hernias at his office in Dallas, Texas. If you have a persistent cough, here’s what you should know about coughing, hernias, and their connection to each other.

What a hernia is

A hernia refers to a phenomenon that occurs when a part of one of your internal organs — or some other internal tissue — pushes through a weakened portion of your muscles or an actual hole in your muscles. Most hernias are external, meaning that they’re visible from outside your body, but you can also have an internal hernia.

Hernias are classified into different types, depending on where they occur. Hernia types, in order of the most common to the least common, are:

Inguinal hernias are 10 times more common in men than in women, because of differences in their anatomy. About a quarter of men develop inguinal hernias in their lifetime. All types of hernias can be caused or exacerbated by coughing.

What coughing does to your body

Sensations you feel in your body are transmitted to your brain, which initiates a cough sequence. When you’re ready to cough, your body goes through a three-step process:

  1. You inhale.
  2. Your epiglottis (i.e., the opening to your throat) closes as your chest constricts and compresses the inhaled air in your lungs.
  3. Your epiglottis opens and expels the air in a rapid burst. 

Each time you cough, you put pressure on your body, including your internal organs. If your organs and muscles are weak, the pressure from the expulsion of compressed air can stress them further.

For instance, as women age and their tissues weaken with time and hormonal changes, a cough may make them lose control of their bladder, leading to leaking and incontinence. For both sexes, the pressure of a cough can force organs and tissues through weakened muscles, causing a hernia.

Symptoms of a hernia

Many hernias have no symptoms and therefore don’t need treatment. One of the first signs that you have a hernia, however, may be an unexplained bulge near your navel, lower abdomen, or groin. You may be able to push the tissue back into place manually.

You may also start to experience pain in the area of the bulge, particularly when you strain to move your bowels, lift heavy objects, or — you got it — cough. You may also experience pain even when you’re not coughing, lifting, or straining. 

How to treat hernias

If your hernia isn’t causing any problems, you might not need to treat it at all. However, if you have pain or other symptoms, you may benefit from surgical repair. 

In some instances, an inguinal hernia can be “strangled” by the muscle it’s pushed through, which cuts off the blood supply to your intestines. A strangled inguinal hernia can be life-threatening. Contact us immediately if you experience symptoms such as:

Even though about 5 million men and women in the United States develop hernias each year, only 1 million hernias require surgical repair. During surgery, we reposition the herniated tissue and repair the muscle or other tissue that was weakened or torn.

If you have a persistent cough that’s causing pain in your lower abdomen, groin, or navel area, contact us today by phone or online form for a hernia evaluation and treatment.

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