What is an Abdominal Hernia?
In general, a hernia refers to a condition
that arises when an organ pushes through a weak area in the muscles
or tissue that surround and contain it.
An abdominal hernia occurs when there
is a tear in the inner lining of the abdominal wall (the outer layer
of muscle, fat and tissue that extends from the bottom of the ribs
to the top of the thighs), causing a bulge in the abdominal wall
where the organs protrude. The bulge can be either reducible, which
means that by applying slight pressure to the area, you can feel
the organs being pushed back into the abdominal cavity and the hernia
will flatten and disappear, or non reducible, which means the fat
or tissue cannot be pushed back into the abdomen and the hernia
will not flatten. Whether a hernia is reducible depends on how far
it protrudes through the abdominal wall and how tightly it is held
by the abdominal muscles.
Hernias are repaired surgically with
a simple surgical procedure. Without corrective surgery the condition
may lead to a strangulation. This is where the organ or intestine
that is protruding through the abdominal wall may have its blood
supply cut and die if it becomes tightly trapped. Strangulation
of an intestine causes extreme pain, can block digestion and may
even cause gangrene in that area of intestine. In this case, emergency
surgical repair is required.
Who is at risk of Abdominal Hernia?
A hernia can develop
in anyone, from a newborn baby to a senior citizen. The following may increase risk of developing
a hernia by straining or increasing pressure on the abdominal wall:
cough, such as smoker's cough
during bowel movements or while urinating
to lift heavy objects
sneezing, such as that caused by allergies
Types of Abdominal Hernias
The following are different types of abdominal hernia:
When a male's testicles descend into the scrotum, this causes a naturally
weakened area in the wall of the abdomen, called the internal ring. This weakened area makes
men more susceptible to a hernia at this location. An indirect inguinal hernia is the most
common type of inguinal hernia. It occurs at the internal ring in the groin area. The intestine
drops down into the internal ring and can extend down into the scrotum in men or to the
outer folds of the vagina in women. An indirect inguinal hernia can be the result of an
inherited weakness at the internal ring or one that occurs later in life. The latter is
known as an acquired hernia.
Indirect Inguinal Hernia
Less common than an indirect inguinal hernia, a direct inguinal hernia occurs
near the internal ring instead of within it. They are acquired hernias that usually occur
after age 40 as a result of aging or injury.
This type of hernia occurs as a result of a weakness in the muscles of the
upper-middle abdomen, above the navel. Men are about three times more likely to have an
epigastric hernia than women, and the majority occur in people between 20 and 50 years of
Another natural area of weakness in the abdomen is the navel, which, like
the internal ring, is made up of tissue that is thinner than that in the rest of the abdomen.
These hernias can occur in babies, children and adults.
A femoral hernia occurs in the area between the abdomen and the thigh, and
appears as a bulge on the upper thigh. This type of hernia is more common in women than
A type of hernia called incisional can occur at the site of an incision
from a previous surgery. The fat or tissue pushes through a weakness created by the surgical
scar. An incisional hernia can occur months or years after the initial surgery.
What are the Warning Signs?
A hernia usually first becomes noticeable as a bulge
somewhere in the abdomen or pelvic area or in the scrotum for men.
If the bulge is reducible, it may enlarge when the person is standing
and become smaller when he or she lies down. The changes in the
hernia's size are due to the increased pressure on the abdominal
wall caused by gravity when we stand. A hernia may cause sharp or
dull pain that worsens when having a bowel movement, during urination,
or while lifting a heavy object. The pain might worsen as the day
progresses, especially with long periods of standing, because of
gravitational pressure. Nonprescription drugs such as aspirin and
acetaminophen may relieve minor discomfort. In the case of a strangulated
hernia that contains intestine, the herniated section of intestine
might become blocked. This blockage may cause blood in the stool,
constipation, fever, severe pain, vomiting and even shock. If these
symptoms are experienced, emergency medical attention is needed.
Even with suspected hernias that do not cause these symptoms, it
is best to schedule an appointment with a doctor to avoid these
complications. The doctor will probably want to perform a physical
examination and discuss the patient's symptoms and medical history
to determine if a hernia has developed.
How are Hernias Treated?
Laparoscopic Hernia Repair Surgery
Hernia repair surgery is an effective long lasting treatment
for hernias. Successful surgery will end discomfort, repair the
hernia, and stop the hernia from progressing.
The surgical procedure for hernia repair is a Laparoscopic procedure
in which a fiber optic viewing tube and special instruments are
used to repair the hernia without making a large incision. This
procedure requires less recovery time than traditional hernia repair
surgery. The surgery will result in three small incisions, one is
usually located in the naval and one on each side of the tummy just
above the waistline. The surgery will result in scars about 10 mm
in length. These scars will fade in time.
A patient always has the option of not undergoing treatment,
but the hernia may become worse and there is a risk of intestinal
What can be Expected from Hernia Repair Surgery?
In preparation for the surgery, blood tests, an electrocardiogram
(EKG), and/or a chest X-ray may be undertaken depending on the age
and fitness of the patient. The patient may be required to stop
medications before surgery, including aspirin, because they thin
the blood and reduce the post operative healing capacity also some
drugs may have dangerous interactions with anesthetics or increase
the risk of abnormal bleeding.
The patient may be requested to stay a few days after surgery so
that they may be carefully evaluated and returned home in good health.
After hernia repair surgery, time should be allowed for rest and
recovery at home.
Normally General Anesthesia is used. It is a safe,
common method of ensuring that no pain is felt while the hernia
is repaired. There are some risks involved with general anesthesia,
especially if the patient has significant medical problems, which
can factor into the choice of anesthetic. These risks will be discussed
with the patient. If a general anesthetic is chosen, the patient
should not eat or drink anything after midnight of the night preceding
During surgery, the surgeon will make an incision at the hernia
and either move the contents within the protruding hernia back into
the abdominal cavity or remove the contents, especially if the protrusion
includes strangulated intestines. In order to repair the hernia,
the surgeon will insert a synthetic mesh behind the weekend abdominal
wall. In time the synthetic mesh will grow into the weakened tissue
forming a strong barrier preventing reoccurrence of the condition.
The repair should be permanent and not require any further surgery.
After surgery, the patient may receive fluids and pain-relieving
medication through an intravenous (IV) tube for a few hours.
Recovery time will depend on the health of the patient and the type
of surgical repair that was performed. The patient should be able
to walk after 24 hours however several days rest is needed as there
will be some discomfort, swelling, brusing and pain. After a few
days once the patient is back at home, they may try to slowly ease
back into normal activities. Light activities can usually be resumed
in a few days.
How soon the patient can return to work depends on the type of job
that he or she has. A job that is very physically demanding may
require more recovery time before returning than a job that does
not require putting strain on the body. It is recommended that no
strain be put on the body for 6 - 8 weeks after surgery. Light exercise,
such as walking, helps increase blood flow and promotes healing.
Lifting should be avoided, but if it is absolutely necessary, only
manageable objects should be attempted and lifting should be done
with the legs, not the back. Activities such as driving and sex
can also strain the incision. The patient should ask when these
activities can be resumed. Pain medications may be prescribed for
the first few days at home. A patient should never drive while taking
A doctor should be notified immediately if any of the following
symptoms are experienced after the surgery:
in the Area of the Incision
Tenderness or Swelling
or Increasing Pain
How can a Hernia Recurrence
After a hernia has been treated there are certain things
that can be done to decrease the risk of recurrence. The following
suggestions can help reduce the risk of a hernia recurring:
a healthy weight
to tone the muscles of the abdomen
medical help for chronic constipation, allergies or a chronic
the risk factors mentioned earlier