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What does a stoma hernia look like and what causes it?

couple sat in hospital chairs

Many people have heard of a hernia, but not everyone has a clear understanding of what it is. A hernia happens when an internal part of the body pushes through a weakness in the muscle or surrounding wall. It can happen anywhere between your throat and hips, but most commonly found in the abdomen and groin.

What causes a stoma hernia?

You may be wondering why you can get hernias around your stoma, also known as a parastomal hernia, and what actually causes them. It’s usually a combination of muscle weakness and strain around the area that causes a stoma to form. Following your stoma surgery, the abdominal wall will have become weakened and is, therefore, far more vulnerable than it was before. The muscles in the abdominal wall should create a snug fit around the stoma opening, so if the muscles in this area becomes weak, a hernia can form. Hernias are unfortunately quite common amongst those with a stoma and can develop gradually as the area stretches and weakens over time.

What does a stoma hernia look like?

A stoma hernia resembles a bulge or a lump. Many people describe it a looking like a “golf ball” or a “grapefruit” behind their stoma. Having a hernia can cause your stoma to look more pronounced and potentially change shape, it may also appear larger or flatter than it did before the hernia. A stoma hernia is quite obvious to see when you are standing, but it can often disappear when you are lying flat. 

Symptoms of a stoma hernia

There are a few things to look out for which could be a sign that you have a hernia. If you do notice any of these symptoms, try not to worry as it is most likely won’t be a problem, however, you should get it checked out by your healthcare professional. The symptoms are:

  • A bulge behind your stoma
  • Discomfort or pain around your stoma, this is often described as a “dragging sensation”
  • Issues with keeping your stoma bag in place
  • Bloating
  • Changes in bowel habits from your stoma
  • Discomfort or pain when you cough or lift things

What can be done?

It is always best to see your stoma nurse if you suspect you may have a stoma hernia, it’s important not to ignore it as this could make it worse. While stoma hernias aren’t usually an emergency, they can get worse over time and they don’t go away by themselves, so make sure you see your healthcare professional. Your stoma nurse will be able to provide you with reassurance and tips to help you manage any symptoms that your hernia is causing. If they aren’t addressed, hernias can grow in size, causing more discomfort and problems. Although very rare, hernias can sometimes cause a section of the bowel to become twisted which will likely require surgery. 

If you are worried at all or if something doesn’t seem quite right, it’s always best to visit your HCP who will be able to put your mind at ease. It’s also important to keep in contact with your stoma nurse as they will be able to support and guide you on which bags will be best for you whilst you have a hernia. They may also arrange for a support garment to be tailor-made to fit you and provide the support your hernia needs.

Contributing factors to developing a stoma hernia

There are a few things that can increase your risk of getting a stoma hernia, these include:

  • Having had previous abdominal surgery
  • Long term constipation
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Infection following your stoma surgery
  • Malnutrition
  • Use of steroids.

You are also at a higher risk of developing a hernia if you are older in age, have or have had cancer, are diabetic, suffer from high blood pressure or have a respiratory disease.

Our tips for managing a stoma hernia:

If you do have a stoma hernia, there are a few things that you can do to help manage it effectively and to recover more quickly, these include:

  • Follow a healthy and balanced diet
  • Avoid any heavy lifting
  • Try some light core exercises to help strengthen your abdominal muscles, your stoma nurse may give you a booklet to work from
  • Sleep on the opposite side to your stoma
  • Maintain good posture
  • Regularly monitor your stoma to ensure it’s functioning normally
  • Wear the support garment that is provided to you

We hope this article has helped and reassured you if you do have a stoma hernia. Always make sure you communicate with your stoma nurse as they are here to help you and offer their professional advice.

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