How Hernias Present in Women

Sports hernias can cause severe bouts of abdominal and pelvic pain. If you have female biology, it may be hard for your healthcare provider to diagnose a hernia. It may take months or years for you to get the correct diagnosis.

Hernias occur when part of the abdominal wall becomes thin, weak, or separated. That lets your internal organs push through.

This article looks at how hernia symptoms are different in biological females and how hernias are diagnosed and treated.

Young fit sporty woman clutching her abdomen with painful face expression
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Hernia Symptoms

Healthcare providers are used to hernias that cause a bulge. In those with female biology, hernias are often smaller and deeper in the body. That makes them less visible.

Your hernias may cause chronic, deep pelvic pain. You may also have a stabbing pain that comes on quickly and lingers.

Research suggests these symptoms often point healthcare providers in the wrong direction. That leads to misdiagnoses, such as:

Recap

People with female biology tend to have smaller, deeper hernias than those with male biology. They often don't have the tell-tale bulge. Pain can be chronic and severe. Misdiagnoses are common.

Diagnosis

Knowing your symptoms may be unusual can help you get a correct diagnosis easier. Be as specific as you can when describing your hernia pain. It may be:

  • Burning
  • Pinching
  • Shooting

A good description means it's more likely that your healthcare provider will look in the right direction. It also helps to explain when it started and what makes it worse.

Hernias often get worse with:

  • Exercise
  • Lifting weights
  • Coughing
  • Laughing
  • Straining to defecate

To check for a hernia, your healthcare provider will feel for a hernia while you sit, stand, or cough.

They may order imaging, such as:

Recap

Be specific when describing your pain and what makes it worse. A hernia diagnosis is generally made with a physical exam and possibly imaging.

Treatment

It's typical to start with conservative hernia treatments. These include pain medications and physical therapy.

Physical therapists often use myofascial release techniques. That can ease muscle spasms that make hernia pain worse.

If that fails, laparoscopic surgery is an option. Its goal is to repair the weak area of your abdominal wall.

Most people heal quickly from this surgery. You may be back to your regular activities in a week or two.

Summary

Hernias are weak areas of the abdominal wall. The weakness lets organs protrude through it. People with female biology often have smaller, deeper hernias. Not all healthcare providers know this. So misdiagnoses are common.

Be specific about your pain and what makes it worse. That plus a physical exam and possibly imaging can get you diagnosed correctly.

Treatment is usually pain medicine, physical therapy, or surgery.

A Word From Verywell

If you've been diagnosed with something other than a hernia and treatments aren't working, suggest a hernia to your provider. The diagnostic process is fairly simple, so they can confirm or rule out a hernia without much trouble.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are pregnancy hernias common?

    No, they're not. Three types of hernia are common in pregnancy:

    Umbilical hernias are the most common. But only about 0.08% of pregnant people get them.

  • Can an inguinal hernia go away on its own?

    No, it won't. An inguinal (groin) hernia doesn't need treatment if it's not causing problems. But if you want it to go away, you'll need surgery.

  • What are signs that a hernia is an emergency?

    Strangulated hernias are a medical emergency. They can cause tissue death. Symptoms include:

    • The hernia bulge not shrinking when you lie down
    • Deep red or purple tissues

    Other danger signs include:

    • Worsening pain
    • Nausea
    • Difficulty with bowel movements
    • Bloating
    • Fever
    • A racing heart
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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Köckerling F, Koch A, Lorenz R. Groin hernias in women—a review of the literature. Front Surg. 2019;6:4. doi:10.3389/fsurg.2019.00004

  2. Kulacoglu H. Umbilical hernia repair and pregnancy: before, during, after... Front Surg. 2018;5:1. Published 2018 Jan 29. doi:10.3389/fsurg.2018.00001

  3. University of Michigan Health. Inguinal hernia: Should I have surgery now, or should I wait?

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. How to tell if you have a hernia.

Additional Reading
  • Farber AJ, Wilckens JH. Sports hernia: diagnosis and therapeutic approach. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2007;15(8):507-14. doi:10.5435/00124635-200708000-00007

  • Metzger DA. Hernias in women: uncommon or unrecognized? Laparoscopy Today. 2004;3(1):8–10