Coliseum Health System - January 30, 2018

There are an estimated 3 million new hernia cases in the United States each year, a painful condition for those they affect.

The severity of hernias can vary greatly, as can the cause and type of hernia.

What causes a hernia?

Hernias are caused by weaknesses in the abdominal wall tissues. Because of this, there are many potential reasons a patient could get a hernia, including age, chronic coughing, pregnancy, constipation, heavy weight lifting or sudden weight gain. Hernias also can be congenital, meaning the condition exists from birth. Congenital hernias can include belly button or umbilical hernias, and groin or inguinal hernias.

Patients are especially susceptible to hernias after they’ve had abdominal surgery. Surgery can weaken the fascial tissue surrounding abdominal muscles, leading to a breach or separation. There are several factors that can influence your likelihood of developing a hernia after surgery:

  1. Women who have C-sections or hysterectomies or men who have abdominal surgeries.
  2. How the tissue was closed during surgery.
  3. Smoking. Nicotine directly damages blood vessels, which negatively affects healing post-surgery.
  4. If surgical incisions get infected, surrounding tissue won’t heal as well and scars won’t form as tightly, which can allow hernias to develop.

Risks

If left untreated, hernias can become incarcerated and require emergency surgery. An incarcerated hernia occurs when the protruding organ or fat becomes pinched so tightly that it cannot be pushed back into the abdomen or groin.

Symptoms

  • Newly discovered lump in the abdominal wall or groin
  • Pain at suspected hernia site
  • Bowel obstruction coinciding with the lump
  • Groin or swelling of the scrotum

What should I do if I have a hernia?

If you develop a lump in your groin or abdomen, see a surgeon sooner rather than later or visit your primary care physician for a surgical referral.

The longer you wait, the larger a hernia can get and the more difficult it is to repair. If it’s small, it’s easy to fix, but if it gets larger, the more complications you can have.

How are hernias repaired?

Hernias are typically repaired using a synthetic or biologic mesh to patch the defect in the abdominal wall.

The mesh can be inserted using different surgical techniques, but the preferred methods are laparoscopic or robotic surgery. Both are minimally invasive, meaning shorter healing time, a decreased risk of infection and less scarring.