What is an inguinal hernia?
An inguinal hernia happens when a loop of intestine, fat, or tissue slips out of place inside your abdomen. It looks like a bump or bulge under the skin near your groin.
What are the types of inguinal hernias?
- Direct inguinal hernia: Tissue, intestine, or part of another organ may slip through a weak area of your abdominal muscle wall. Most of the time, this kind of hernia causes a bulge in the groin area.
- Indirect inguinal hernia: This happens when part of an organ, intestine, or tissue from your abdomen falls into the inguinal canal. The inguinal canal is a tube-shaped passage that goes through the wall of your lower abdomen. In women, this passage holds tissue that helps hold the uterus in place. In men, this passage allows the testicles to drop into the scrotum before birth. If this passage does not close, intestines or tissues from your abdomen can fall through this area. In men, this kind of hernia is usually found in the scrotum. In women, the hernia may be felt in the labia.
What causes an inguinal hernias?
The cause is sometimes unknown. Inguinal hernias usually happen because of an hole or a weak area in the muscles of the abdominal wall. You may have been born with the weak area, or the area may have become weak with age. An injury or surgery can sometimes weaken your abdominal wall. You may get a hernia after you lift something heavy. If you strain when you have a bowel movement, or have a powerful cough or sneeze, this can cause a hernia. You may have an increased risk if you smoke or if you are overweight. Being pregnant can cause a hernia. An undescended testicle may increase your risk for a hernia. Inguinal hernias are more common in males. You may be more likely to have a hernia if other family members have them. If you had a hernia in the past, it may happen again.
What are the signs and symptoms of an inguinal hernia?
A hernia may happen over time or it may happen suddenly. You may feel the muscle tear in the wall of your abdomen or groin. You may not even know you have a hernia until your caregiver finds it during a routine exam. You may notice the following:
- You have a soft lump or bulge in the groin or lower abdomen. It may get bigger when you cough, sneeze, or strain to have a bowel movement.
- You have a lump or swelling in your scrotum.
- You have pain or burning in your abdomen that may get worse when you cough, sneeze, lift, or stand for a long time.
- You have swollen skin in your groin that is red, gray, or blue.
How is an inguinal hernia diagnosed?
Your caregiver will examine you. He may ask you to bend or cough to see if he can feel a hernia. You may need blood tests or x-rays.
How is an inguinal hernia treated?
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These medicines decrease pain. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding if not taken correctly. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. Do not take ibuprofen if you have kidney disease, an ulcer, or allergies to aspirin. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not drink alcohol if you take acetaminophen.
- Reduction: Lying flat may help your hernia go back into your abdomen on its own. If this does not work, your caregiver may be able to gently push your hernia back into the abdomen. This is called a reduction of the hernia. To make this easier, your caregiver may have you lie down with your hips higher than your head. An ice pack may also be used over the area if there is swelling.
- Support belt: You may be recommended to wear to a support belt to keep the hernia area flat. It will not prevent other serious problems that a hernia may cause. Only wear a support belt if your caregiver tells you to do so.
- Surgery: Hernias that are painful, large, or growing may need to be fixed with surgery. Without surgery, hernias often get worse over time. Some hernias may need surgery right away.
How can I prevent another inguinal hernia?
- Quit smoking and lose weight if you are overweight to decrease your risk of a hernia. Treat allergies if they cause you to have forceful sneezing. Avoid heavy lifting and any other activity that causes pressure in your abdomen.
- Eat foods that are high in fiber and drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Do this to help prevent constipation. A high-fiber diet includes whole grains, bran, cereals, and uncooked fruit and vegetables. Exercise can help prevent hernias by making the muscles in your abdomen stronger. Exercise can also help prevent constipation. Ask your caregiver for more information about a diet and exercise program that is right for you.
What are the risks of an inguinal hernia?
If your hernia is not treated, the following serious problems may happen:
- Incarcerated hernia: An incarcerated hernia is when the hernia cannot be pushed back into the abdomen by your caregiver. The tissue becomes stuck or trapped, which can cause serious problems. If your hernia becomes incarcerated, your intestines may become blocked. You may have severe pain, nausea, or vomiting.
- Strangulated hernia: A loop of intestine in the hernia may become pinched or strangulated. This means that the blood supply to that area of intestine is decreased or cut off. If your hernia becomes strangulated, you may have pain, nausea, vomiting, or a fever. You may have constipation or blood in your bowel movements. If your intestine becomes blocked, you may not be able to pass gas or have a bowel movement. If a strangulated hernia is not treated right away, that part of the intestine may die. This is called gangrene, and it can be life-threatening.
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- You have nausea or vomiting.
- You cannot gently push your hernia back into your abdomen. (Do this only if your caregiver has shown you how to do it.)
- You are constipated or have blood in your bowel movements.
- Your hernia is getting bigger.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care?
Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- You have a fever.
- Your hernia is stuck outside your abdomen and is painful, swollen, or feels hard.
- You completely stop having bowel movements and stop passing gas.
- Your abdominal pain is bad or getting worse.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.