Hernias in women can be misdiagnosed


Author Martine Ehrenclou writes about how patients can take charge of their health care, but recently, she had to follow her own advice when she started experiencing severe abdominal pain.

"The pain felt like a red hot poker in my lower abdominals," says Martine Ehrenclou.

She saw 12 different doctors and spent 10 months in intense pain, still no one could tell her what was wrong. Then she found a doctor who finally gave her an accurate diagnosis.

"She walked in and said 'this is what you have,' and 'I can help you,' and I cried," says Ehrenclou.

It was a hernia. Ehrenclou actually had two. Dr. Shirin Towfigh with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center says hernias are often overlooked in women.

"They tend to have the pain, but not the bulge," says Towfigh.

A hernia happens when part of an internal organ bulges through a hole in a muscle-which can entrap abdominal fat and compress nerves causing intense pain. Women are more likely to have internal hernias. The hard part: diagnosing it.

"An exam alone is not 100 percent" says Towfigh.

Pain from hernias may be misdiagnosed as pelvic pain from ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis or adhesions. Towfigh says a vaginal exam, an MRI and a complete patient history are the best ways to spot one. And fixing a hernia is simple.

"The same way when we were kids and we had a hole in our jeans, and mom would put the patch, that's a simple way of describing our surgical way of fixing it," explains Towfigh.

Ehrenclou had hers fixed and can now focus on making music with her daughter and not her pain.

"I'm getting my life back," says Ehrenclou.

Women account for only eight-percent of hernias, but Towfigh says that figure is probably low because many with hernias remain undiagnosed. She also says sometimes, if a woman is examined while standing up, the bulge will show, but often, these hernias cannot be seen or felt.