Inguinal Hernias: What are they and how are they repaired?
By Steven F. Samuel, MD, general surgeon
A hernia occurs when the lining that separated the intestine from the skin weakens and a hole forms. Hernias can be congenital, meaning individuals can be born with them. They can also occur from increases in weight, straining and other activities causing the lining to become stretched.
A hernia can occur anywhere in the abdomen, but many occur in the groin. This type is called inguinal hernia. Some studies report as much as 80 percent of hernias are inguinal. This type of hernia is also more common in men than women.
A great number of my patients with an inguinal hernia say they were doing an activity and experienced pain in their groin. Upon investigation, they noticed a bulge. You may push on the bulge and it will go away, but return again with activity.
Other signs and symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:
- A bulge in the area of the pubic bone
- A burning or aching sensation at the bulge
- Pain or discomfort in your groin, particularly when bending over, coughing or lifting
- A heavy or dragging sensation in your groin
- Weakness or pressure in your groin
- Pain and swelling around the testicles
Anytime you notice an abnormal bulge in your abdomen or groin, you should see a physician for evaluation and treatment.
Hernias of all kinds, including inguinal, can be repaired through an elective, outpatient surgical procedure. According to the National Institutes of Health data, roughly 600,000 surgical procedures are performed annually to repair inguinal hernias.
Inguinal hernias have a three to five percent chance of recurrence. They can be repaired multiple times. However, subsequent repairs can be more complicated. Surgical mesh is often used to strengthen tissue during hernia repair and help prevent recurrence of the hernia.
When diagnosed with a hernia of any kind, it is best to have it repaired quickly. Without repair, organs and tissue from the abdomen can come through the hole and become strangled, cutting off the blood supply to those areas. This is called a strangulated hernia, which can be life threatening. Once that occurs, an emergency surgery will be needed, followed by a prolonged hospital stay. At times, the strangulated organ may need to be resected, meaning a portion may be damaged and require removal, which can result in long term affects.
There are a limited number of cases where surgical repair may not be the preferred course of treatment. For example, patients of advanced age, or who have diabetes or hypertension may not be well enough to undergo surgery. If an individual is too ill to undergo surgery, treatment usually involves monitoring of the hernia. In these cases, we would regularly monitor and watch closely for signs of a strangulated hernia.
If you think you have a hernia of any kind, seek medical attention. A simple procedure can repair the hernia and help you to avoid serious complications.
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Steven F. Samuel, MD, is a general surgeon with Jewish Physician Group which is part of KentuckyOne Health. For more information, go to www.KentuckyOneHealth.org.