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UK Club issues crew health advice on hernias

Sophia Bullard, Crew Health Director at UK P&I Club, discusses hernias, their impact on crew and the disruptive effects on seafarers’ lives:

“A hernia develops when a section of the intestine, or other tissue in the abdomen, pushes through a layer of muscle that has become weakened. In seafarers we see this weakness in the muscles due to ageing, being overweight, bowel problems such as constipation or most commonly, by lifting things that are too heavy. This causes repeated strain on the muscles which then leads to weakness and potential herniation of the fatty tissue or bowel.

The four types of hernia:

  • Inguinal hernias – most common type and mainly affects men. It happens when a fatty tissue or part of the bowel pokes through into the groin at the top of the inner thigh
  • Femoral hernias – occur when fatty tissue or a part of your bowel pokes through into the groin at the top of the inner thigh. Less common and tend to affect women more than men
  • Umbilical hernias – fatty tissue or a part of the bowel pokes through the stomach near the belly button.
  • Hiatus or Epigastric hernias – part of the stomach pushes up into the chest by squeezing through an opening in the diaphragm.

“Common symptoms are a lump or bulging in the affected area, which may disappear when lying down. There may also be discomfort or pain around the lump or bulge; depending on the type of hernia you may also have heartburn, have trouble swallowing or suffer chest pain.

“When onboard ship, it is important to seek advice early on to maximise more effective and quicker medical intervention. By speaking to the Master or Chief Mate and reporting the symptoms, an assessment will be conducted and advice sought from a doctor ashore.

“Depending on the severity of the symptoms pain medication will be prescribed and some lifestyle advice given to reduce the symptoms and prevent it from getting any worse. You will most likely need to be seen ashore to assess the extent of the problem.

“A hernia can be a serious condition and if a seafarer develops symptoms such as severe pain, vomiting, issues passing stools, wind or the lump becomes tender, they will need urgent medical attention. In the majority of cases surgery is required to fix the hernia. It is a routine surgery, except in the cases of serious complications.

“Lifestyle factors such as being overweight and smoking will increase susceptibility to hernias as will heavy lifting and vigorous exercise. At the same time, slight moderations such giving up smoking, losing weight and using safe manual handling techniques can lessen the risk of hernias significantly.”
Source: UK P&I Club

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