What Is an Inguinal Hernia?
An inguinal hernia occurs
in the groin area when fatty or intestinal tissues push through the inguinal
canal. The inguinal canal resides at the base of the abdomen. Both men and
woman have an inguinal canal. In men, the testes usually descend through this
canal shortly before birth. In women, the canal is the location for the uterine
ligament. If you have a hernia in this passage, it results in a protruding
bulge that may be painful during movement.
Many people don’t seek treatment for this type of hernia because
it may not cause any symptoms. Prompt medical treatment can help prevent
further protrusion and discomfort.
Symptoms of Inguinal Hernia
These types of hernias are most noticeable by their appearance.
They cause bulges along the pubic or groin areas that can increase in size when
you stand up or cough. This type of hernia may be painful or sensitive to the
Other symptoms may include:
- pain when coughing, exercising, or bending over
- burning sensations
- sharp pain
- a heavy or full sensation in the groin
- swelling of the scrotum in men
Causes and Risk Factors of Inguinal Hernia
There isn’t one cause for this type of hernia, but weak spots
within the abdominal and groin muscles are thought to be a major contributor.
Extra pressure on this area of the body can eventually cause a hernia.
Risk factors can increase your chances of this condition.
Examples of risk factors include:
- personal history of hernias
- being male
- premature birth
- being overweight or obese
- cystic fibrosis
- chronic cough
- frequent constipation
- frequently standing for long periods of time
Types of Inguinal Hernias
Inguinal hernias can be either indirect or direct. An indirect inguinal hernia is the
most common type. It often occurs in premature births, before the inguinal canal
can fully develop. However, this type of hernia can occur at any time during
your life. This condition is most common in males.
inguinal hernia most often occurs in adults. The popular
belief is that weakening muscles during adulthood lead to a direct inguinal hernia.
According to the National
Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), this type
of hernia is more prevalent in men.
Inguinal hernias can also be incarcerated or strangulated. An incarcerated inguinal hernia
happens when tissue becomes stuck in the groin and can’t go back. Strangulated versions are more serious
medical conditions that restrict blood flow to the small intestine.
Strangulated hernias are life-threatening and require emergency medical care.
Diagnosis of an Inguinal Hernia
A doctor can easily push these hernias back into your abdomen
when you are lying down. However, if this is unsuccessful, you may have a
strangulated inguinal hernia. Your doctor can make this determination during a
physical exam. During the exam, your doctor will ask you to cough while
standing so they can check the hernia when it’s at its largest.
Treating Inguinal Hernias
Surgery is the primary treatment for inguinal hernias. It’s a
very common operation and a highly successful procedure when done by a
well-trained surgeon. Your doctor will recommend either herniorrhaphy (“open”
repair) or laparoscopic surgery (done through a small scope).
Open repair involves
making an incision into the groin and returning the abdominal tissues to the
abdomen and repairing the abdominal wall defect. Laparoscopy uses several short incisions rather than a
single, longer incision. This surgery may be preferable if you want a shorter
Prevention and Outlook of Inguinal Hernias
Although you can’t prevent genetic defects that may cause hernias,
it’s possible to lessen the severity of hernias by:
- maintaining a healthy weight
- eating a high-fiber diet
- not smoking
- avoiding heavy lifting
Early treatment can help cure inguinal hernias. However, there’s
always the slight risk of recurrence and complications, such as infection after
surgery, scars. Call your doctor if you experience new symptoms or if side
effects occur after treatment.