What Is a Hernia?
“A hernia occurs when an organ is squeezed through the opening in the muscle or tissue that is holding it in place. In some cases, the intestines may protrude through a weakened area in the abdominal wall.”
– Dr Ganesh
Hernias occur mostly in the abdomen region, but they can also appear in the upper thigh, belly button, and groin areas. Most hernia conditions are not immediately life-threatening. However, they typically require surgery to prevent potentially dangerous complications.
What Happens When You Experience a Hernia?
One of the most common symptoms associated with a hernia is a lump or bulge in the affected region. In the case of an inguinal hernia, one may notice a bump on the side of the pubic bone where the groin and thigh connect.
The lump might disappear when you are lying down, and it is more likely felt through touch when you are standing up, bending down, or coughing.
You might also experience some pain and discomfort in the area around the lump.
In some types of hernia, such as hiatal hernias, specific symptoms may be observed, such as heartburn, trouble swallowing, and chest pain. However, in many cases, hernias do not present with any symptoms, and you may be unaware unless the hernia shows up during a routine check-up or a medical examination for an unrelated problem.
Dr Ganesh: “It’s essential to recognise the signs of a hernia and to seek medical attention if you suspect that you have one. Do note that an untreated hernia will not go away by itself. Your doctor can assess your hernia and recommend a suitable treatment for your condition.”
Hernias are not limited to just adults, and the condition is quite common in children as well. That is what the parents who noticed a swelling on the left side of the groin of their eight-month-old child experienced.
Is a Hernia Considered an Emergency?
In some instances, whether it’s in adults or children, hernias can cause life-threatening complications. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or sudden pain. Early medical care and lifestyle changes can minimise symptoms.
However, surgery is the only way to treat a hernia effectively. There are different types of surgeries available for hernia repairs, and your surgeon can advise on which one is recommended for your condition.
While the prognosis for hernia repair surgery is generally good but can depend on the nature of the hernia, your symptoms, and your overall health, in some cases, the hernia may recur following repair.
What Is an Inguinal Hernia?
An inguinal hernia is the most common type of hernia. It occurs when the abdominal wall weakens. This allows fatty or intestinal tissues to protrude through the weak area, and you may experience pain when you bend over, cough or carry a heavy object.
In males, the testes normally descend through their canal several weeks before birth. In females, the canals act as the passage for the round ligaments of the uterus. A hernia within or near this passageway results in a protruding bulge that causes pain during movement.
Many people do not seek treatment for this type of hernia because it may not be noticeable or not present with any additional symptoms. Seek medical attention so as to prevent further protrusion and discomfort.
What Causes an Inguinal Hernia?
While there may not be a direct cause for inguinal hernias, the weakened spots in the abdominal and groin muscles may be a significant contributor. Placing added pressure on this area of the body can result in a hernia.
Here are some risk factors that can increase your chances of inguinal hernia. These include:
- Having a prior inguinal hernia
- Being male
- Premature birth
- Being overweight or obese
- Cystic fibrosis
- Chronic cough
- Chronic constipation
What Are the Symptoms of an Inguinal Hernia?
As mentioned, the most common symptoms of inguinal hernias are the bulges they cause along the pubic or groin area. They tend to appear to increase in size when you stand up or cough. An inguinal hernia may be painful or sensitive to the touch.
Other symptoms may include:
- Pain when coughing, exercising, or bending over
- Burning sensations in the bulge
- Sharp pain
- Swelling of the scrotum for males
- A heavy, full feeling in the groin
What Should I Avoid Eating if I Have a Hernia?
Diet can play an essential role in controlling the significant symptoms of a hernia, such as heartburn and acid reflux. If you have a hernia, be careful about your diet.
To help improve your condition and avoid aggravating your hernia, changing your diet may help. You may consider:
- Reducing your intake of fats and choose low-fat foods whenever possible. Avoid high-fat, greasy, and fried foods.
- Adding fibre to your diet to make your bowel movements more solid and reducing the strain on your lower body during bowel movement. Take note to add only a serving of fibre at a time to prevent gas that can occur from eating excess fibre.
- Avoiding foods and drinks known to be high in acidity. While acidic foods are harmless and often nutritious, they increase irritation and affect hernia patients. Avoid orange juice, caffeinated beverages, and decaffeinated coffee.
- Avoiding food and drink with a high sugar content. For example, soft drinks, candies, desserts, pastries, cookies as they are high in calories yet result in less intake of nutrients and may lead to weight gain.
How Is an Inguinal Hernia Diagnosed?
The doctor will carry out a physical examination to diagnose an inguinal hernia. If your diagnosis is not immediately apparent, you might be asked to undergo a diagnostic imaging test such as abdominal ultrasound, CT scan or MRI by the doctor to determine the condition.
Are There Different Types of Inguinal Hernias?
Inguinal hernias may present as indirect or direct, incarcerated, or strangulated. We will explain what each of these terms mean below.
Indirect Inguinal Hernia
An indirect inguinal hernia is the most common type of hernia found in patients. It tends to occur in premature births, before the inguinal canal becomes closed off. However, this type of hernia may occur at any stage of life. An indirect inguinal hernia is most common in males.
Direct Inguinal Hernia
A direct inguinal hernia is most common in ageing adults. It is thought that weakening muscles during adulthood contribute to a direct inguinal hernia.
Incarcerated Inguinal Hernia
An incarcerated inguinal hernia happens when the tissue becomes stuck in the groin and is not reducible. This means it cannot be pushed back into place.
Strangulated Inguinal Hernia
A strangulated inguinal hernia occurs when the hernia has its blood flow cut off, it is a more serious medical condition which typically needs emergency medical care.
Does an Inguinal Hernia Go Away on Its Own?
An inguinal hernia does not typically resolve without surgery. However, there are non-surgical approaches such as wearing a corset, binder, or truss to exert gentle pressure on the hernia to help keep it in place. These methods may ease the pain or discomfort and may be used if you are not fit for the surgery or awaiting surgery.
How Is an Inguinal Hernia Treated?
If you have a hernia, it is not likely to heal when left untreated. Hernias that are growing in size or causing pain might interfere with daily activities. These usually require surgery to ease the discomfort and prevent severe complications like painful, twisted intestines.
Hernia repair is a common procedure and is highly successful when done by an experienced surgeon.
When considering hernia repair, options may include an open inguinal herniorrhaphy or laparoscopic inguinal herniorrhaphy.
An open inguinal herniorrhaphy involves making one larger incision over the abdomen near the groin.
With a laparoscopic inguinal herniorrhaphy, several smaller incisions are made to allow a long, thin tube with a lighted camera that helps surgeons see inside your body to perform the surgery.
The goal of either surgical approach is returning the internal abdominal tissue(s) into the abdominal cavity. Additionally, the abdominal wall defect is repaired. A mesh, as seen above, is placed to reinforce the abdominal wall. Once these structures are put into place, your surgeon will close the opening with either sutures, staples, or adhesive glue.
What Happens After I Treat My Hernia?
After hernia surgery, it is common to experience discomfort and pain in the area surrounding the surgical site. Doctors will prescribe medication to help with this discomfort during your recovery.
Tending to your wound would require extra care. You are advised to carefully follow your surgeon’s instructions to prevent complications or infections during your recovery.
Open surgery typically requires a longer recovery process as compared to laparoscopic surgery. Your medical team will let you know when you can return to your normal routine.
Following a hernia repair, you may be unable to move around naturally for several weeks and may be advised to avoid strenuous activity. Additionally, you should avoid carrying and lifting heavy objects during this recovery period. This is to prevent adding stress and strain to the wound.
Due to the nature of a hernia and the cause, heavy lifting should be avoided wherever possible. Weightlifting could potentially cause further herniation and deterioration of your condition so it would be better not to weightlift whilst you have the hernia.
36-year-old Lynne Cope discovered she had a hernia and had it removed with a simple operation. Speaking to Daily Mail, Lynne shared about her experience with inguinal hernia and her recovery.
Schedule a consult with our doctor Dr Ganesh Ramalingam
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