If you have or think you might have a hernia, you're not alone. About 5 million people in the U.S. develop hernias every year. Inguinal hernias, the most common kind, account for 2/3 of hernias overall. And about 90% of those are found in males – which probably accounts for their reputation as a men's condition. So why do only 20% have their hernias repaired? Probably because they don't know about today's repair options. It's probably easier than you think to fix your hernia.
Think you might have a hernia? While some hernias have no symptoms (and are found during a routine physical), most inguinal hernias will have one or more of the following:
*If you have a bulge that cannot be pushed back inside, that is red, purple, or dark, or have pain with fever, chills, and/or vomiting, go to your hospital emergency room or call 911. Don't wait – this may indicate an emergency that can become life-threatening.
If you noticed a sudden pain in the groin or a sensation as if something had torn, you may be right. A hernia is a weakness or tear in the abdominal muscle wall, which normally holds the inner lining of the abdomen and internal organs in place (i.e. inside, where they belong). The weakness or tear allows the inner lining to protrude and form a pouch. The bulge you might see is usually a loop of intestine protruding through the tear in the muscle and into that pouch.
Contrary to popular myth (about lifting heavy objects), you didn't cause your hernia. Most people are born with a weakness in the muscle, which eventually gives way, or an opening that didn't close up (as it usually does) before birth.
Don't be. Because of a hernia's location, some people are embarrassed and avoid telling anyone or seeing the doctor. But there's only one way out: fix it. The sooner you do, the better you'll feel – physically and emotionally.
The area where inguinal hernias occur is the opening through which the testicles descend during fetal development. It usually closes up before birth except for a small space allowing the spermatic cord to pass to the scrotum. If it doesn't close properly, it can leave a natural weakness that can bulge or tear later on.
The short answer: Yes. A hernia will not go away by itself, and almost always gets worse the longer it's ignored. The tear gets bigger, and the bigger the tear, the bigger the surgery needed to fix it. What started as pressure or discomfort can turn into pain. The pain may not just be in the area of the hernia; it can radiate to your hip, back, leg – even to the genitals. As your hernia gets worse, many aspects of your life will get worse right along with it. Even if it isn't painful (yet), the sensation and pressure may cause you to avoid certain activities. Your job, your family, your weekends, and even your sex life can all suffer.
It's possible for the protruding loop of tissue and/or intestine to get stuck (obstructed) outside the abdominal muscle wall, unable to be pushed back inside. If the loop of intestine is tightly trapped, the blood supply can be cut off (strangulation). Without the blood supply, the trapped tissue will swell, die, and become infected. And that's an emergency – it can even be life-threatening.
The only way to repair a hernia is through surgery. The good news? Surgical techniques have come a long way since your (grand)father's hernia repair. New procedures and materials offer options that can decrease discomfort and speed recovery, so you can get back to your health – and your life – faster than you might think.
Call your doctor or surgeon. He or she will diagnose your hernia: where it is, how big it is, and how soon you should have it repaired. And the more you know about surgical repair techniques, the better prepared you'll be to have an informed discussion – and make an informed decision – with your doctor.
Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.