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What is Hernia?

Hernia is an opening formed by the lining of the abdominal cavity. Abdominal wall hernia occurs when the contents of the intestine bulge out of the abdominal wall. Hernias are developed at birth (congenital) or may appear later (acquired).

Hernia may be present at birth and occurs when the lining around the abdominal organs, fails to close before birth. Hernia may also result if the connective tissue degenerates in the abdominal wall due to which, pressure builds up in the abdominal wall leading to a bulge in the abdomen. Some of the other factors that worsen hernia are chronic cough, obesity, constipation, pregnancy, poor nutrition, smoking and stretching or straining abdominal muscles while lifting heavy objects.

Types of Hernia

There are different types of hernia based on their location. The most common types are listed below.

  • Inguinal hernia
  • Femoral hernia
  • Hiatus hernia
  • Incisional hernia
  • Umbilical hernia
  • Epigastric hernia
  • Spigelian hernia
  • Obturator hernia

Symptoms of Hernia

Some of the commonly observed symptoms include abdominal pain, bulge in the abdominal area, severe groin pain which increases on coughing or lifting heavy things, burning, gurgling sensation, nausea and vomiting.

Your physician can confirm the presence of hernia by performing a physical examination. The size of hernia increases on coughing, bending, lifting, or straining. An ultrasound may be needed to look for hernia.

Treatment for Hernia

Surgery is the only treatment and is usually performed for hernias that enlarge in size due to increased intra-abdominal pressure, causing intestinal obstruction and restricted blood supply which may lead to the death of bowel tissues.

A hernia repair is usually performed as an outpatient surgery with no overnight stay in the hospital. The operation may be performed as an 'open' or 'keyhole' (laparoscopic) surgery.

Your surgeon will decide which procedure is suitable for the repair and performs the surgery with your consent.

In open hernia repair, a large incision is made on the groin (abdomen) and the bulge is pushed back into place. Laparoscopic hernia surgery is a surgical procedure in which a laparoscope (telescope) is inserted into the abdomen through a small incision. The laparoscope is a small fiber-optic viewing instrument made up of a tiny lens, light source and video camera.

  • Hernioplasty­ : This type of procedure is done if the abdominal wall is completely ruptured and damaged. A synthetic mesh is used which is stitched along with the abdominal wall to provide support.
  • Herniorrhaphy: This method is done if the abdominal wall is torn and causes leakage of the intestinal contents. Your surgeon opens the wall and pushes the contents back into the abdomen and the torn tissue is stitched.

Open surgery
This surgery is performed under general or local anesthesia and a single large incision is made on the groin area and hernioplasty or herniorrhaphy is performed.

Laparoscopic or Keyhole surgery: This surgery is performed under general anesthesia and several small incisions are made around the abdomen. Through one of the incisions, a laparoscope, a small, fiber-optic tube with a tiny camera is inserted. Through the other incisions, surgical instruments are inserted and hernioplasty or herniorrhaphy is performed.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is put into the abdomen through a special needle that is inserted just below the navel. This gas helps to separate the organs inside the abdominal cavity, making it easier for the physician to see the reproductive organs during laparoscopy. The gas is evacuated at the end of the procedure.

As is common with other surgeries, hernia surgery is also associated with certain complications such as local discomfort and stiffness, infection, damage to nerves and blood vessels, bruising, blood clots, wound irritation and urinary retention.

Inguinal Hernia

Inguinal hernia is a condition where a part of the intestine protrudes out of the abdomen through a tear in the abdominal wall. Inguinal hernia most commonly develops in the area between the abdomen and thighs, in the area of inguinal ring. Inguinal hernia affects people of all ages and is more common in men than women.

Inguinal hernia is of two types:

  • Indirect inguinal hernia:­ Indirect inguinal hernia often affects premature infants and is caused because of non-closure of the inguinal canal and is a congenital disorder.
  • Direct inguinal hernia: ­ Direct inguinal hernia is common in adult males and is caused because of degeneration of tissues in the abdominal muscles.

Inguinal hernia causes discomfort and sharp pain which may worsen with increased activity but may be relieved with rest. Patients may also experience a burning or gurgling sensation at the site of hernia.

Femoral Hernia

Femoral hernia appears as a bulge in the upper thigh, as a loop of intestine, or another part of the abdominal contents, that has been forced out of the abdomen through a channel called the "femoral canal"(a tube-shaped passage at the top of the front of the thigh). It most commonly develops in women due to the wider pelvic region and also in older people.

Femoral hernia may be congenital or develop later in life. Certain factors such as chronic constipation, obesity, and stressful urination because of enlarged prostate may increase the risk of hernia. Patients with femoral hernia may have a bulge in the upper thigh area and may have symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and discomfort on standing or lifting heavy objects.

Hiatus Hernia

Normally, the stomach is completely below the diaphragm. In individuals with hiatus hernia, part of the stomach slides through the diaphragm, the muscular sheet that separates the lungs and chest from the abdomen, and protrudes into the chest cavity. Hiatal hernia is common and affects people of all ages.

Hiatal hernia is of two types:

  • Sliding hiatal hernia ­: The top portion of the stomach slides up and down through the diaphragm with increased pressure on the abdominal cavity
  • Fixed hiatal hernia ­: The top portion of the stomach moves up into the chest cavity and does not slide down into a normal position.

Obesity, chronic cough, chronic constipation, smoking, and hereditary factors increase the risk of developing hiatal hernia. Hiatal hernia may not cause any symptoms, but patients may experience chest pain, heartburn, belching, and hiccups.

Incisional Hernia

It occurs through a scar of any previous surgical incision made in the abdomen and usually develops after many years of surgery. Incisional hernia is small and only the peritoneum or tissue layer lining the abdominal cavity protrudes out. Incisional hernia is more common in obese individuals and in pregnant women. Risk is more in those who had multiple surgeries earlier and those who perform activities that impart more stress on the abdomen.

Patients may experience pain and discomfort and there is always a risk of recurrence.

Umbilical Hernia

Umbilical hernia is a small bulge around the umbilicus (belly button). An umbilical hernia in an infant is caused by the incomplete closure of the muscles around the umbilicus. A smaller umbilical hernia often requires no treatment and gets closed by the age of 2. However, a larger umbilical hernia may necessitate surgical treatment. Umbilical hernia may also develop later in life during pregnancy. Conditions such as mucopolysaccharide storage diseases, Beckwith Wieldemann syndrome, and Down syndrome may increase the risk of umbilical hernia.

The bulge in umbilical hernia is soft and bulges may appear when the baby cries or sits up.

Recurrent Hernia

Recurrent hernia, as the name implies, recurs at the same site of the earlier hernia. Recurrence is more common in obese individuals and those who had multiple surgeries earlier. Recurrence is more common with incisional hernia because the risk factors such as obesity may persist and cause recurrence.

Surgery is the best approach for recurrent hernia. However, the difficulty or complications increase on subsequent repairs. Recurrent hernia can be repaired with open surgery or laparoscopic surgery and the chances of infections are minimal with the laparoscopic approach. Certain preventive measures such as treating chronic cough before treating hernias, avoiding smoking, avoiding strain on the abdomen during a bowel movement, and avoiding lifting of heavy objects may help in preventing recurrence.

Mesh & Hernia Repairs

Surgery is the best approach for hernia treatment. Various surgical techniques are used to treat hernias and it is recommended that using the 'tension-free' repair method is beneficial especially for incisional hernia. Also, surgery is recommended for recurrent hernia. In treating larger hernias, surgeons use a synthetic material called 'mesh'  to close the defect or hole. The mesh minimizes the tension at the surgical wound and prevents recurrence. Mesh used in surgery also provides support to the weakened abdominal walls. The mesh is available in various sizes and shapes so as to meet the requirements.

Surgeons place this mesh either below or above the defect in the abdominal wall and will be held in place with sutures. This mesh provides support for the growth of new tissue and this tissue incorporates the mesh into the surrounding area.

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  • American College of Physicians
  • Andrews Research & Education Foundation
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • JJM Medical College
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