Inguinal hernia

Also known as: Hernia, inguinal

A hernia is a bulge of intestine, another organ, or fat through the muscles of the belly. A hernia can occur when there is weakness in the muscle wall that allows part of an internal organ to push through. Hernias typically do not heal on their own. Surgery is the only way to treat a hernia and is usually performed by a general surgeon.

There are a number of different types of hernias:

  • Inguinal hernia
  • Femoral hernia
  • Umbilical hernia
  • Incisional hernia
  • Epigastric hernia
  • Hiatal hernia

This article is about inguinal hernia (say "IN-gwuh-nul HER-nee-uh").

What is an inguinal hernia?
An inguinal hernia occurs when tissue pushes through a weak spot in your groin muscle. This causes a bulge in the groin or scrotum. The bulge may hurt or burn, or it may be painless.

What causes an inguinal hernia?
Most inguinal hernias happen because an opening in the muscle wall does not close as it should before birth, leaving a weak area in the belly muscle. Pressure on that area can cause tissue to push through and bulge out. A hernia can occur soon after birth or much later in life.

Hernias are more common in men than women. Activities and medical problems that increase the pressure on the abdominal muscles may increase the chance of developing a hernia, such as:

  • Chronic constipation, straining to have bowel movements
  • Chronic cough
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Enlarged prostate, straining to urinate
  • Obesity / being overweight
  • Heavy lifting
  • Poor nutrition
  • Smoking
  • Overexertion
  • Undescended testicles
  • Being pregnant

What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of an inguinal hernia is a bulge in the groin or scrotum. It often feels like a round lump. The bulge may form over a period of weeks or months. Or it may appear all of a sudden after you have been lifting heavy weights, coughing, bending, straining, or laughing. The hernia may be painful, but some hernias cause a bulge without pain.

A hernia also may cause swelling and a feeling of heaviness, tugging, or burning in the area of the hernia. These symptoms may get better when you lie down.

Sudden pain, nausea, and vomiting are signs that a part of your intestine may have become trapped in the hernia. Call your doctor if you have a hernia and have these symptoms.

How is an inguinal hernia diagnosed?
A doctor can usually determine if you have a hernia based on your symptoms and a physical exam. The bulge is usually easy to feel.

How is it treated?
Most hernias do not heal on their own and require surgery to close them. Hernia repair is usually performed by a general surgeon. A general surgeon may use either open (traditional) or laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgical techniques to repair the hernia. There are benefits for both techniques, as well as risks. You should discuss your surgical options and associated risks carefully with your surgeon before undergoing any type of surgery.

If your hernia does not bother you, you most likely can wait to have surgery. Your hernia may or may not get worse. In some cases, hernias that are small and painless may never need to be repaired.

Strangulation is a serious problem that occurs when part of your intestine gets trapped inside the hernia. Because of this risk, most people with hernias have surgery to repair them, even if they do not have symptoms. But, if the hernia is small and painless and you can push it back into your belly you may not need surgery right away.

An exception is babies or young children. Both are more likely to have tissue get trapped in a hernia. If your child has a hernia, he or she will need surgery to repair it.

A hernia can come back after surgery. To reduce the chance that this will happen, stay at a healthy weight, do not smoke, avoid heavy lifting, and try not to push hard when you have a bowel movement or pass urine.

For more information:
Visit our Health Information Library for more information on appendicitis diagnosis and treatment.

Read about Providence General Surgery Services or find a general surgeon near you.