What Is an Inguinal Hernia?
Inguinal hernia is when a piece of your intestine or part of the membrane lining your abdominal cavity -- the space that holds organs like your stomach, small intestines, liver, and kidneys -- pokes through a weak spot in your abdominal muscles near your groin.
It’s named for the inguinal canal. That's a passage in your lower abdominal wall that houses blood vessels and nerves. It’s home to the spermatic cord in a man, and to ligaments that support a woman’s uterus.
An inguinal hernia could be a serious health problem, so don't ignore symptoms like a pain in your groin when you cough or lift something heavy. A physical exam is usually all it takes to diagnose the problem. If the hernia is large enough, you'll need surgery to fix it.
Inguinal Hernia Signs and Symptoms
You could have a direct inguinal hernia if you:
Hurt when you cough, bend, or lift something heavy
Feel pressure, weakness, heaviness, or a dragging sensation in your groin
Have swelling around your testicles
Feel a burning or aching sensation at the hernia’s bulge
You may be able to gently push the bump back up into your abdomen to relieve some of the discomfort.
Inguinal Hernia Causes and Risk Factors
A baby can get an indirect inguinal hernia if the lining of their abdomen doesn't fully close while they're developing. What's left is an opening at the upper part of the inguinal canal. That's where a hernia can take shape.
Older adults usually get a direct inguinal hernia because the muscles of their abdominal wall can weaken.
Women rarely have this type of hernia. The broad ligament of the uterus is right behind the abdominal wall, which supports it and shields the inguinal canal.
Men don't have that barrier, so stress and gradual weakening of their abdominal muscles over time make it more likely something can push through to the inguinal canal.
Who gets them?
It happens in 2% to 3% of male babies, but less than 1% of baby girls. About 1 in 4 males will have an inguinal hernia at some time in their life. It's most common in men over the age of 40.
Abdominal surgery can make you more likely to develop a direct inguinal hernia. A family history of this condition raises your odds, too.
Smokers may have a higher chance of having inguinal hernias, along with other health problems.
Inguinal Hernia Diagnosis
See your doctor if you have symptoms of an inguinal hernia. They’ll check your groin area for swelling or a bulge. They’ll probably ask you to stand and cough. This can make a hernia more obvious.
If the doctor doesn’t see any swelling in the area, they may order imaging tests, like an abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.
Inguinal Hernia Treatment
If you have an inguinal hernia, a high-fiber diet with plenty of veggies, fresh fruits, and whole grains may help you avoid constipation, which can lead to painful symptoms.
Surgery is the only way to fix an inguinal hernia. The doctor will push the bulging tissue back inside and strengthen your abdominal wall with stitches and perhaps mesh. They might be able to do this through a small cut in your belly using a special tool, a procedure called laparoscopy. You'll probably hurt less and heal faster than if you have traditional surgery.
An inguinal hernia can be quite painful, but it's definitely treatable. If you think you have one, see your doctor. It won't get better on its own.
Inguinal Hernia Complications
If you don’t treat an inguinal hernia it could lead to problems like:
Pressure and pain on the surrounding areas.Most inguinal hernias get larger over time if you don’t fix them with surgery. In men, large hernias can bulge down into the scrotum, causing swelling and pain.
Incarcerated hernia.This happens when the protrusion (and contents) of the hernia get trapped in the weak point of your abdominal wall. It can cause bowel obstruction, with severe pain, nausea, vomiting, and the inability to have bowel movements.
Strangulated hernia.When an incarcerated hernia cuts off the blood flow to part of your intestine, it’s called strangulation. This could lead to death of the affected bowel tissue. This situation is life-threatening and requires surgery immediately.
Inguinal Hernia Prevention
You can't prevent being born with a weak abdominal wall. But you can take steps to avoid having problems because of it, such as not smoking and keeping your weight in check.
If you have abdominal surgery, be careful afterward:
Use your legs, not your back, when lifting.
Avoid lifting heavy things.
Try not to strain when you poop.