'Miss' diagnosed - hernias and women

FRESNO, Calif.

Author Martine Ehrenclou writes about how patients can take charge of their health care, butrecently, Martine 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," said Martine Ehrenclou.

Martine 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," Martine said.

It was a hernia! Martine actually had two. Dr. Shirin Towfigh says hernias are often overlooked in women.

"They tend to have the pain, but not the bulge," said Dr. Shirin Towfigh at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

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%," Towfigh said.

Pain from hernias may be misdiagnosed as pelvic pain from ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis or adhesions. Dr. 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," Towfigh explained.

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

"I'm getting my life back," Martine concluded.

Women account for only eight-percent of hernias, but Dr. 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.

Simi Singer
Senior Media Specialist
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
(310) 423-7798

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