Inguinal Hernia

Written by Kristeen Moore | Published on September 26, 2015
Medically Reviewed by The Healthline Medical Review Team on September 26, 2015

What Is an Inguinal Hernia?

An inguinal hernia occurs in the groin area when fatty or intestinal tissues push through the inguinal canal. The inguinal canal resides at the base of the abdomen. Both men and woman have an inguinal canal. In men, the testes usually descend through this canal shortly before birth. In women, the canal is the location for the uterine ligament. If you have a hernia in this passage, it results in a protruding bulge that may be painful during movement.

Many people don’t seek treatment for this type of hernia because it may not cause any symptoms. Prompt medical treatment can help prevent further protrusion and discomfort.

Symptoms of Inguinal Hernia

These types of hernias are most noticeable by their appearance. They cause bulges along the pubic or groin areas that can increase in size when you stand up or cough. This type of hernia may be painful or sensitive to the touch.

Other symptoms may include:

  • pain when coughing, exercising, or bending over
  • burning sensations
  • sharp pain
  • a heavy or full sensation in the groin
  • swelling of the scrotum in men

Causes and Risk Factors of Inguinal Hernia

There isn’t one cause for this type of hernia, but weak spots within the abdominal and groin muscles are thought to be a major contributor. Extra pressure on this area of the body can eventually cause a hernia.

Risk factors can increase your chances of this condition. Examples of risk factors include:

  • heredity
  • personal history of hernias
  • being male
  • premature birth
  • being overweight or obese
  • pregnancy
  • cystic fibrosis
  • chronic cough
  • frequent constipation
  • frequently standing for long periods of time

Types of Inguinal Hernias

Inguinal hernias can be either indirect or direct. An indirect inguinal hernia is the most common type. It often occurs in premature births, before the inguinal canal can fully develop. However, this type of hernia can occur at any time during your life. This condition is most common in males.

A direct inguinal hernia most often occurs in adults. The popular belief is that weakening muscles during adulthood lead to a direct inguinal hernia. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), this type of hernia is more prevalent in men.

Inguinal hernias can also be incarcerated or strangulated. An incarcerated inguinal hernia happens when tissue becomes stuck in the groin and can’t go back. Strangulated versions are more serious medical conditions that restrict blood flow to the small intestine. Strangulated hernias are life-threatening and require emergency medical care.

Diagnosis of an Inguinal Hernia

A doctor can easily push these hernias back into your abdomen when you are lying down. However, if this is unsuccessful, you may have a strangulated inguinal hernia. Your doctor can make this determination during a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor will ask you to cough while standing so they can check the hernia when it’s at its largest.

Treating Inguinal Hernias

Surgery is the primary treatment for inguinal hernias. It’s a very common operation and a highly successful procedure when done by a well-trained surgeon. Your doctor will recommend either herniorrhaphy (“open” repair) or laparoscopic surgery (done through a small scope).

Open repair involves making an incision into the groin and returning the abdominal tissues to the abdomen and repairing the abdominal wall defect. Laparoscopy uses several short incisions rather than a single, longer incision. This surgery may be preferable if you want a shorter recovery time.

Prevention and Outlook of Inguinal Hernias

Although you can’t prevent genetic defects that may cause hernias, it’s possible to lessen the severity of hernias by:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • eating a high-fiber diet
  • not smoking
  • avoiding heavy lifting

Early treatment can help cure inguinal hernias. However, there’s always the slight risk of recurrence and complications, such as infection after surgery, scars. Call your doctor if you experience new symptoms or if side effects occur after treatment.

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