Q. I think I have a small hernia in my groin that’s probably going to need surgery. How soon should I get this thing taken care of ?
First, if you suspect you have a hernia, get it checked by a doctor immediately. Don’t treat it lightly. Eventually, almost all hernias require surgery. Having surgery before complications occur makes sense.
You get a hernia when a section of an internal organ bulges through weak abdominal muscle tissue. The protruding organ is usually the intestines. About 80 percent of hernias are located in the groin. The overwhelming majority of groin-hernia victims are men.
Hernias in the groin—called inquinal hernias—get bigger if they aren’t repaired. They can cause swelling and pain. They can be dangerous, too.
Most hernias can be pushed back into the abdominal cavity. However, an intestine can be trapped or incarcerated by a hernia. Incarceration can block defecation. Then there is a condition called strangulation, which cuts blood flow to the trapped section of the intestine and can kill it. A strangulated hernia is a surgical emergency.
About 5 million Americans develop hernias annually, but only 700,000 get them fixed surgically. The common theory for this phenomenon among doctors is that most people fear having an operation. But hernia surgery today is not the ordeal it once was with a large incision and long recovery.
Today, patients requiring hernia surgery are in an out of the hospital the same day. The surgery takes about an hour.
The operation can be done with a small incision or by minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery that employs a slender, tubular, optical instrument with a surgical tool.
Most patients resume their normal lives within a few days after the surgery; they can handle strenuous activity and exercise within four to six weeks.
Besides inquinal hernias, there are femoral hernias in the upper thigh (more common in women), incisional hernias through a surgical scar, and umbilical hernias around the navel.
Some symptoms of hernia are: protrusion; pain while lifting, bending over and coughing; a dull ache; a vague feeling of fullness; a heavy or dragging sensation in the groin, and swelling in the scrotum that holds the testicles. Some inguinal hernias have no symptoms.
People of all ages and both genders get hernias. They occur because of an inherited weakness in the abdominal wall, a strain from lifting, gaining a lot of weight, persistent coughing, or difficulty with bowel movements or urination.
Other causes of hernias are pregnancy that can strain abdominal muscles, occupations that require standing for long periods, premature birth, and a personal history of hernias. If you've had an inguinal hernia, you’re at greater risk that you’ll get another elsewhere.