A hernia occurs when a portion of an internal organ protrudes through a weak spot in your muscle, stomach wall or tissue. If the protrusion is small, you may not feel the lump at all or experience any symptoms. Larger protrusions are noticeable and may cause one or more symptoms.
Since a hernia won’t heal on its own, surgery may be the only way to repair the hernia. There are two types of hernias that make up 70-80% of all cases: inguinal and femoral hernias.
In men, the inguinal canal holds the spermatic cord and blood vessels that lead down to the testicles. An inguinal hernia occurs when fatty tissue or part of the intestines protrudes into the groin area at the top of the inner thigh. The inguinal canal in women contains the round ligament that supports the womb. This is the most common type of hernia and affects more men than women.
Inguinal hernias can be caused by one of many factors, including:
- Being male
- Prior inguinal hernia
- Chronic constipation
The other common type is a femoral hernia, which occurs when a portion of the intestine protrudes into a weakened area of the abdominal wall into the femoral canal, located right below the inguinal canal at the top of the inner thigh. This type of hernia affects older women more than men and is less common. However, if the hernia restricts blood flow to the intestines, it is called a strangulated hernia and requires immediate surgery.
Weakened muscle walls can be caused by heredity or by excessive straining that happens during:
- Chronic constipation
- Heavy lifting
- Being overweight
- Chronic coughing
- Difficult urination due to enlarged prostate
If your femoral hernia is small to medium size, you may not even see the bulge or feel any symptoms. Femoral hernias are often located close to the hip, so it may be confused with hip pain.
Surgery is the recommended treatment
With both kinds of hernias, if you experience any of the following severe symptoms, call 911 immediately. You may need emergency surgery:
- Severe stomach pain
- Sudden groin pain
There are two types of surgery that can repair your hernia. Your doctor will determine when surgery will be needed
During open hernia surgery, the surgeon will make an incision near the location of the hernia. Once visible, the protruding tissue will be pushed back into place and the opening in the weakened muscle wall will be closed with sutures. In some instances, the surgeon may also apply a type of medical mesh to provide extra support to the sutures that the wound.
Laparoscopic hernia surgery is slightly different because the surgeon will only make a very small incision in the skin, just large enough to insert surgical tools to complete the same procedure described above. The surgeon may also use a robotic device for the surgery and will control the device from a console in the operating room.
After surgery, you will likely be given instructions on what diet to follow during the recovery period, how to care for the wound site, and how to avoid physical strain. Hernias can return even if the first surgery is successful, so follow the post-operative instructions. If possible, stop smoking and lose weight, as both are major risk factors for recurring hernias.