An inguinal hernia takes place when tissue or part of an organ (e.g., the intestines, the stomach, etc.) abnormally pushes through a weakened part of a muscle/wall, causing a protrusion into another area, such as the inguinal canal (in inguinal hernias) or outside the abdomen(in umbilical hernias).
The bulge or mass that goes through an impromptu, unnatural opening can be uncomfortable, aesthetically troublesome, and painful—especially when bending over, engaging in strenuous activities, straining, lifting heavy objects or even coughing.
Although an inguinal hernia is usually not dangerous or life-threatening, it can be rather burdensome and something that you may not be able to hide for very long; it can also escalate, in time, to something that is dangerous and even life-threatening (if it becomes incarcerated or strangulated). Another important point to make is that inguinal hernias don’t heal themselves or get better with time; at best, they may remain stable for a time.
Whether your doctor recommends surgery will depend on many factors, including whether you have additional medical conditions (diabetes, heart problems, etc.) that can make surgery dangerous, unless it is absolutely necessary. If your hernia is very large, interfering with your work responsibilities or daily activities, very painful/uncomfortable, or simply affecting you in a negative way psychologically, then your doctor will most likely suggest surgery.
If your doctor does recommend surgery, keep in mind that inguinal hernias are very common and something that surgeons today are very familiar with and highly experienced in fixing. Inguinal hernia surgery is considered to be a very safe procedure and one that, barring complications, will allow you to go back to your regular activities in a relatively short time.
The symptoms & signs of an inguinal hernia include:
- An aching or burning sensation at the protruding mass (the hernia)
- An abnormal, palpable and usually-visible bulge or mass on either of your pubic bones sides; it generally becomes more noticeable when coughing, straining or standing
- A dragging or heavy sensation in the groin area
- A troubling pressure or weakness in the groin area
- Swelling and/or pain in the vicinity of the testicles or inside the scrotum, if parts of the intestines descend therein
- Aesthetically-troubling psychological considerations
In some cases, you may be able to push a hernia back where it belongs, especially lying down, but this isn’t necessarily recommended. At best, this is only a quick fix that doesn’t last for very long. Some things that can bring some relief (until you get surgery) are applying ice packs for the swelling, and lying down while keeping the pelvis higher than your head.
Signs & Symptoms in Children
In babies or newborns, inguinal and umbilical hernias (two of the most common hernias seen in infants) can come about as a weakness in the abdominal wall still developing after birth. In these cases, hernias may only be visible when the child is coughing, crying or straining. The child may exhibit irritability or a diminished appetite.
Of course, noticing these things can be very valuable, since babies can’t communicate what they feel.
You may have to depend on what you observe yourself, including a mass or bulge that is more apparent when the child strains to defecate, cries or coughs, or even if the bulge disappears when the child is lying down or is otherwise relaxed. The fact that the bulge disappears for a while doesn’t mean that it isn’t something to keep a close eye on.
INCARCERATED & STRANGULATED INGUINAL HERNIAS
If you can’t push a hernia back into place, it may be due to the fact that the mass/bulge has gotten trapped or lodged outside your body’s abdominal wall. While tissue incarceration isn’t necessarily life-threatening, it can set the stage for “tissue strangulation.”
If the mass/bulge becomes trapped to the point of not getting proper amounts of oxygen & nutrition-carrying blood, then things like infection, gangrene, and necrosis can set in. These things mean that the affected tissue is spiraling downwards, biologically speaking, toward irreversible cellular death.
If this process isn’t dealt with promptly and effectively, it can be life-threatening. Seek immediate medical care if you experience one or more of these symptoms after being diagnosed with any kind of hernia:
- Vomiting or nausea or both
- A fever
- Intensifying pain
- A bulge/mass that becomes noticeably darker or that changes color
- Difficulty emitting flatulence or defecating
WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION
Consult a doctor if you see or feel a mass or bulge on either of the two sides of your pubic bone in the groin area. This mass usually becomes more noticeable if you are standing, straining or engaged in strenuous activities. While a hernia isn’t necessarily an emergency, it is something to be taken seriously, especially if it
- feels painful & uncomfortable,
- is interfering with your daily (work, school, social, etc.) activities,
- is getting noticeably larger,
- turns a darker color, or,
- it feels as if it has become tightly lodged in place—something termed “incarceration”; while incarceration is generally not life-threatening, it is a good reason to have surgery soon. Untreated, incarceration can escalate to strangulation, which is life-threatening and does require immediate surgical intervention.
Unfortunately, inguinal hernias don’t always have a clearly-delineated cause; some risk, contributing factors or known causes can include:
- The pressure normally present within the abdominal cavity increasing suddenly or gradually
- A congenital defect in the abdominal wall that rendered a section in the wall relatively weak
- The likely possibility of a congenital-defect weakened wall & increased abdominal pressure
- Highly strenuous activities & exercises
- A chronic or persistent cough; sneezing fits
- Lifting excessive amounts of weight
For many people, the abdominal walls weakness that allowed or precipitated an inguinal hernia to occur has most probably been around since birth, if the abdominal lining or peritoneum didn’t close when (or in the usual manner) it was supposed to. Muscular walls can also weaken because of disease, excessively strenuous activities, chronic coughing, or simply getting older.
The abdominal walls may also succumb to structural weakness because of trauma or after having undergone one or more abdominal surgeries, especially the type that didn’t heal properly, got infected or didn’t include a mesh or other substances meant to strengthen an area operated upon because of a hernia.
For men, the weakened area is usually near the inguinal canal, the place where the spermatic cord normally descends into the scrotum. For women, the inguinal canal normally houses a special ligament that helps to keep the uterus in its proper location.
THE RISK FACTORS
The circumstances that can contribute to your possibly one day developing an inguinal (or other types of hernias) include:
–Aging. Muscles weaken as you get older.
–Gender. Males are 8 times more prone to inguinal hernias than women.
–Race.According to studies, Inguinal hernias are statistically more common in Caucasians than in other races.
–Having a history of hernias in the family.
–Chronic coughing or abnormal sneezing fits.
–Chronic or persistent constipation.
–Pregnancy. Being pregnant can both weaken abdominal muscles & lead to greatly increased abdominal pressure.
–Low birth weight & being born prematurely.
–Previously being operated, especially for a hernia; this includes operations that occurred during childhood.
Some of the most common complications for an inguinal hernia include:
- Incarcerated hernia (if the mass/bulge gets trapped to the point of not being able to freely move in and out of the hole it went through)
- Abnormal pressure being put on surrounding tissue or organs; this can lead to damage to nerves, blood vessels, etc., if, for example, there is constant friction and/or excessive pressure
- Strangulation–this is the worst symptom you may experience and one that usually requires immediate surgical intervention; in best case scenarios, such a thing may make it hard to go to the bathroom, but, if tissue damage is occurring because of a cut off blood supply, then your life may be in danger, unless you seek immediate medical assistance.
WHY CHOOSE THE SURGERY GROUP?
We remain committed to providing our patients with innovative, safe alternatives to open surgery. However, there are times when open surgery is warranted, and minimally invasive surgery is not an option. In cases such as these, our board-certified surgeons are prepared to perform conventional surgery and provide each patient with the compassionate, high-quality, personalized care they deserve.
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If you need surgical intervention for any of the conditions or diseases listed above, contact our office today, at 850-444-4777, to schedule an initial consultation with one of our Board-Certified Surgeons. We proudly serve Southwest Alabama (the Gulf Coast), Northwest Florida, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Florida Panhandle, Milton, Foley, Atmore, Brewton and Santa Rosa County.