A hernia occurs when tissue, such as part of the intestine, protrudes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles. The resulting bulge can be painful, especially when you cough, bend over or lift a heavy object. A hernia isn't necessarily dangerous. It doesn't improve on its own, however, and can lead to life-threatening complications. Your doctor is likely to recommend surgery to fix a hernia that's painful or enlarging. Hernia repair is a common surgical procedure.