Do you feel pressure when you’re bending and lifting? Or when you cough and strain? Have you noticed a small, tender bulge in your groin? Perhaps you have no symptoms, but your healthcare provider discovered the problem during an exam. The diagnosis: an inguinal hernia.
When abdominal tissue protrudes through a weak spot or tear, it’s called a hernia. In men, inguinal hernias occur in the area where the spermatic cord and blood vessels that supply the testicles pass out of the abdominal cavity and into the scrotum. In women, hernias develop at the point where the ligament that holds the uterus connects to the tissue around the vaginal opening.
Inguinal hernias are common, occurring more often in men. They can be triggered by defects present at birth, weight lifting, sudden twists or pulls, weight gain, straining or everyday wear and tear.
A hernia might not cause too much trouble at first. But without prompt treatment, it can lead to severe problems. In men, the intestines can protrude into the scrotum, causing pain and swelling. The hernia can reach a point where it won’t go back in, called incarceration. When nearby tissues cut off blood flow to this incarcerated area, gangrene can follow.
Only surgery can truly repair a hernia. During herniorrhaphy, the surgeon makes an incision that is several inches long, pushes the hernia back into the abdomen, then sews nearby tissue over the area.
Another procedure called hernioplasty can be performed laparoscopically. Working through several small incisions and watching the procedure with the help of a thin viewing scope, the surgeon pushes the hernia back into the abdomen and holds it in place by sewing in a synthetic mesh. New tissue gradually grows over the mesh, strengthening the muscles.
The surgeon also may plug the area with a mesh device resembling a badminton birdie before applying a mesh patch.
While hernioplasty is a great advance, it’s not for everyone. For those with a weakened immune system, herniorrhaphy is the best option. That’s because they are more likely to develop an infection from the synthetic mesh used in hernioplasty.
If you suspect you have a hernia, see your healthcare provider. And if you know you have one, have it repaired. Delaying may turn a minor problem into a medical emergency.