A hernia doesn't occur overnight. The most common kind is actually set in motion right before you're born.
An inguinal hernia is a weak point in the lower abdominal wall. This can be caused when an opening between your abdominal muscles fails to completely close after birth. Sometimes weakness in the abdominal wall itself can cause a hernia. A chronic cough, constipation, excess weight, or heavy lifting can force the soft tissue to push through, resulting in a hernia. Seventy-five percent of all hernias are inguinal, and they are five times more common in men than in women.
An inguinal hernia causes a bulge or lump in the groin area. You may notice the bulge more when you're standing, and it may disappear when you're lying down. An inguinal hernia is often painless, but it's possible that the affected area may be tender.
Recognizing these symptoms is the first step in getting help for a hernia. The second step is to see your health care provider. Hernias don't get better by themselves, so getting proper treatment is important.
In the case of a mild hernia, it can be pushed back into the abdominal cavity below your stomach. If a hernia causes symptoms or gets larger, it most likely needs surgery.
"In most instances, we recommend surgical repair at the patient's earliest convenience," says Randy Haluck, M.D., director of minimally invasive surgery at Pennsylvania State University. "We do this to avoid the long-term risks of incarceration and strangulation, potentially life-threatening complications of hernia."
Incarceration occurs when a loop of the intestine gets trapped in the abdominal wall and prevents bowel movements. Strangulation cuts off blood supply to the intestines and causes intense pain. Both conditions require immediate medical attention.
There are two main types of surgery for an inguinal hernia. In the traditional repair procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in the groin area and sews the tear from the outside. It is common in both types of repair for the surgeon to place an artificial patch to help strengthen the area. It may take four to six weeks to recover completely from this procedure.
A more recently developed option is laparoscopic surgery. This method uses several smaller cuts and a tiny camera to guide miniature surgical instruments to repair the hernia from the inside. The day after surgery, patients are encouraged to gradually go about their normal routines. The recovery is usually quicker than the traditional repair procedure.
You may not be able to do much to prevent an inguinal hernia. And, if you have surgery for one, there is the chance that it can come back. But, there are steps you can take that may lessen your risk:
Be careful when lifting heavy objects. Bend from the knees, rather than from the waist.
Maintain a healthy weight. Your health care provider can offer strategies to get you started.
Exercise regularly to help prevent constipation, which may lead to a hernia. A high-fiber diet also can help.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking can cause a chronic cough, which can result in a hernia or make one worse.
© 2014 Main Line Health