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Some inguinal hernias have no apparent cause. Others occur as a result of:

  • Increased pressure within the abdomen
  • A pre-existing weak spot in the abdominal wall
  • A combination of increased pressure within the abdomen and a pre-existing weak spot in the abdominal wall
  • Straining during bowel movements or urination
  • Heavy lifting
  • Fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Pregnancy
  • Excess weight
  • Chronic coughing or sneezing

In many people, the abdominal wall weakness that leads to an inguinal hernia occurs at birth when the abdominal lining (peritoneum) doesn't close properly. Other inguinal hernias develop later in life when muscles weaken or deteriorate due to factors such as aging, strenuous physical activity or coughing that accompanies smoking.

In men, the weak spot usually occurs in the inguinal canal, where the spermatic cord enters the scrotum. In women, the inguinal canal carries a ligament that helps hold the uterus in place, and hernias sometimes occur where connective tissue from the uterus attaches to tissue surrounding the pubic bone.

More common in men

Men are more likely to have an inherent weakness along the inguinal canal because of the way males develop before birth.

In male babies, the testicles form within the abdomen and then move down the inguinal canal into the scrotum. Shortly after birth, the inguinal canal closes almost completely — leaving just enough room for the spermatic cord to pass through but not enough to allow the testicles to move back into the abdomen. Sometimes, the canal doesn't close properly, leaving a weakened area.

In female babies, there's less chance that the inguinal canal won't close after birth.

Weaknesses can also occur in the abdominal wall later in life, especially after an injury or a surgical operation in the abdominal cavity. Whether or not you have a pre-existing weakness, extra pressure in your abdomen from straining, heavy lifting, pregnancy or excess weight can cause a hernia.

Mar. 20, 2013

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