A hernia is the protrusion of an organ or the fascia of an organ through the wall of the cavity that normally contains it. A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach protrudes into the mediastinum through the esophageal opening in the diaphragm.
By far the most common herniae develop in the abdomen, when a weakness in the abdominal wall evolves into a localized hole, or "defect", through which adipose tissue, or abdominal organs covered with peritoneum, may protrude. Another common hernia involves the spinal discs and causes sciatica.
Herniae may or may not present either with pain at the site, a visible or palpable lump, or in some cases by more vague symptoms resulting from pressure on an organ which has become "stuck" in the hernia, sometimes leading to organ dysfunction. Fatty tissue usually enters a hernia first, but it may be followed by or accompanied by an organ.
Most of the time, herniae develop when pressure in the compartment of the residing organ is increased, and the boundary is weak or weakened.