Inguinal Hernia

What is an inguinal hernia?

A hernia occurs when a section of intestine protrudes through a weakness in the abdominal wall. A soft bulge is seen underneath the skin where the hernia has occurred. An inguinal hernia occurs in the groin area, when a section of intestine pushes through a weak spot in the inguinal canal--a triangle-shaped opening between layers of abdominal muscle near the groin.

What causes an inguinal hernia?

As a male fetus grows and matures during pregnancy, the testicles develop in the abdomen and then move down into the scrotum through the area called the inguinal canal. Shortly after the male is born, the inguinal canal closes, preventing the testicles from moving back into the abdomen. If this area does not close off completely, a loop of intestine can move into the inguinal canal through the weakened area of the lower abdominal wall, causing a hernia. Although females do not have testicles, they do have an inguinal canal and can develop hernias in this area, as well. 

Obesity, pregnancy, heavy lifting, and straining to pass stool can all be causes of inguinal hernias.

What are symptoms of inguinal hernia?

The following are the most common symptoms of an inguinal hernia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Lump in the groin near the thigh

  • Pressure or pain in the groin

  • Partial or complete blockage of the intestine (in more severe cases) that may lead to nausea, vomiting, and poor appetite 

The symptoms of an inguinal hernia may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is an inguinal hernia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for an inguinal hernia may include the following:

  • Blood tests

  • X-rays and/or CT scan. Diagnostic tests which use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film; to check for blockage of the intestine.

Treatment for an inguinal hernia

Specific treatment for an inguinal hernia will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance of specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

The main treatment for an inguinal hernia is a surgical procedure known as herniorrhaphy. In this procedure, the opening in the muscle wall is repaired. Sometimes, in a procedure known as hernioplasty, the weak area is repaired and reinforced with steel mesh or wire. Laparoscopic surgery can also be performed by making several small incisions in the lower abdomen and inserting an instrument called a laparoscope to carefully repair the hernia using synthetic mesh.

If the protruding intestine becomes twisted or traps stool, a bowel resection may need to be performed. In this procedure, part of the intestine, or bowel, is removed.