Inguinal Hernia

Written by Kristeen Moore | Published on July 27, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is an Inguinal Hernia?

An inguinal hernia is a condition that occurs in the groin area when fatty or intestinal tissues push through the inguinal canal. The inguinal canal is located at the base of the abdomen and is closed. Men and woman have an inguinal canal. In men, the testes descended through the canal shortly before birth. The uterus ligament is located in the canal in women. When there is a hernia in this passage, it results in a protruding bulge that may be painful on movement.

Many people do not seek treatment of 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 physical appearance. They cause bulges along the pubic area 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, and bending over
  • burning sensations
  • sharp pain
  • heavy sensation in the groin
  • swelling scrotum in men

Causes and Risk Factors of Inguinal Hernia

There is no one cause of this type of hernia. However, weak spots within the abdominal and groin muscles are thought to be a major cause. Extra pressure on this area of the body can eventually cause hernias.

Risk factors can increase your chances of this condition. Examples of 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

There are two types of inguinal hernia: indirect and direct. An indirect inguinal hernia is the most common type. It often occurs in premature births, when the inguinal canal is not fully developed. 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. It is most often attributed to weakening muscles during adulthood. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), this type of hernia is exclusive to males

Inguinal hernias may also be classified as incarcerated or strangulated. Incarcerated inguinal hernias are stuck in the groin muscles. 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

These hernias may be easily pushed back into the abdomen when lying down. However, if they are unable to be pushed back into the abdomen, you may have a strangulated inguinal hernia. Your doctor can make this determination during a physical exam. During the exam, you may be asked to cough while standing so the hernia can be checked when it is at its largest.

Treating Inguinal Hernias

Surgery is the primary treatment for inguinal hernias and a very common operation and highly successful procedure. Your doctor will recommend either herniorrhaphy (“open” repair) or laparoscopy.

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

Prevention and Outlook of Inguinal Hernias

Early treatment can help cure inguinal hernias. However, there is always the slight risk of complications, such as infection after surgery, scars, and the recurrence of the hernias. Call your doctor if you experience new symptoms or if side effects occur after treatment. Although you cannot prevent genetic defects that may cause the hernias, you can possibly lessen their severity by:

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