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Inguinal Hernia

What is an inguinal hernia?
What are the signs of an inguinal hernia?
What causes an inguinal hernia?
How does my doctor tell if I have an inguinal hernia?
How is an inguinal hernia treated?

What is an inguinal hernia?

A hernia happens when the muscles inside a person's abdomen (belly) weaken in one spot, allowing a loop of intestine or abdominal tissue to push through the muscle layer. An inguinal hernia occurs in the groin. The intestines push through the inguinal canal, which is an opening in the muscle layers of the abdomen. In men, this canal contains the tube that carries sperm (the vas deferens).

Inguinal hernias can occur on both sides of the body. These are called bilateral inguinal hernias.

What are the signs of an inguinal hernia?

In some cases, an inguinal hernia causes no discomfort, and the first sign of the hernia is a bulge or lump in the groin or scrotum (the sac that contains a man's testicles). An inguinal hernia may cause pain when a person:

  • Lifts heavy objects
  • Coughs
  • Strains during a bowel movement, or when urinating
  • Stands or sits for a long time

If a loop of intestine gets tightly trapped in the tear in the muscle layer, the supply of blood to the intestines can become cut off. This is called strangulation, and can cause:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

Strangulation is a medical emergency, and requires a doctor's immediate attention.

What causes an inguinal hernia?

Inguinal hernias can be caused by a congenital (inherited) condition, in which the muscle lining around the abdominal organs does not close properly before birth. This condition can cause inguinal hernias in children, more often in boys.

Factors that might contribute to an inguinal hernia in an adult include:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Continuous coughing
  • Straining when having a bowel movement or urinating
  • Severe vomiting
  • Being overweight
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Steroid use

How does my doctor tell if I have an inguinal hernia?

Your doctor will want to examine the area where you might have an inguinal hernia. As coughing will often make a hernia expand, your doctor may ask you to cough while he or she feels the area of the suspected hernia.

In some cases, a doctor will use a CT (computed tomography) scan to make images of the abdomen to help diagnose an inguinal hernia.

How is an inguinal hernia treated?

Because a hernia will not get better on its own, and can worsen (get larger) over time, a doctor may recommend that an inguinal hernia be repaired through surgery. The Hernia Surgery Center offers a number of hernia repair options. We will carefully evaluate your hernia before recommending a type of surgery.

  • In minimally-invasive hernia repair, a surgeon uses a laparoscope—a thin tube with a tiny video camera at its tip—small tools, and a small piece of plastic mesh to fix a hernia. Some patients recover more quickly from minimally-invasive hernia repair than they do from open hernia repair. It may cause less pain than open hernia repair.
  • In open hernia repair, a surgeon makes an incision in the patient's abdomen, and pushes the bulging tissue or organ back where they belong. Often the surgeon uses a small piece of plastic mesh to repair the defect in the muscle tissue.
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