Hernias occur when abdominal contents push through a weak area or opening in the muscle wall. While some hernias go undetected, others can cause painful symptoms and require treatment.

What is an Inguinal Hernia?

An inguinal hernia occurs when tissue, such as part of your intestine, pushes through a weakened area in the groin. The result is a bulge that can be visible and uncomfortable. Pain is often worse when you lift heavy objects, bend over, or strain.

Inguinal hernias are slightly more common on the right side than on the left, and often present together on both sides. They usually continue to grow in size over time.  Smaller hernias can sometimes be more painful than larger ones. Though not common, abdominal contents such as intestines can become trapped and lead to life-threatening complications such as strangulation. Inguinal hernias never go away on their own and are typically surgically repaired.

Causes of Inguinal Hernia

The inguinal canal is a passage from the groin to the abdomen that should close before birth. In some individuals, it does not, leaving them vulnerable to inguinal hernias later.  

The inguinal area is a weak spot in the anatomy of the abdominal wall, and hernias can also develop with excessive straining and the normal wear and tear that occurs over time.

Frequent coughing and being overweight or obese increases your chances of developing an inguinal hernia. So does heavy lifting and straining.  Inguinal hernias are more common in men than in women.  Often hernias will be present in family members due to genetic transmission.

Symptoms of Inguinal Hernia

About two-thirds of people who have inguinal hernias will experience symptoms. These symptoms can include pain that gets worse during exercise, straining, and coughing. The pain may get worse throughout the day and then improve when you lie down. A bulge that gets bigger when bearing down or standing may be visible.

You may also feel a heavy or dragging sensation in your groin or weakness in the area.

The most serious issue that can occur with inguinal hernias is strangulation. If this occurs, severe pain and tenderness will be felt. Strangulation can cut off the blood supply, which can cause damage to the affected tissue.

You may be able to push your hernia back into your abdomen while you are lying down. This is called a reducible hernia.  If it can’t be gently pushed back in, then it is an entrapped or incarcerated hernia.

Inguinal Hernia treatment

Surgery is the only effective treatment for inguinal hernias. Hernia repair surgery, as a result, is one of the most commonly performed surgeries. Having a hernia surgically repaired can relieve discomfort and prevent dangerous strangulation.

The surgery for an inguinal hernia can be performed usually through minimal incision laparoscopy. Typically, a piece of mesh is surgically attached to the affected area, closing the hernia. The mesh allows for faster healing than older hernia repair methods and also reduces the chances of the hernia recurrence.

In most cases, hernia surgery can be performed on an outpatient basis. You'll have some soreness after surgery but can return to your normal daily activities in a few days. Heavy lifting and straining should be avoided for a few additional weeks until the area is fully healed.

All hernias are potentially dangerous even if they are not painful.  Having a hernia repaired early allows you to choose the time of your surgery and return to normal activities, without risking the possibility of an emergency operation.