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Incisional Hernia

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is an incisional hernia?

An incisional hernia is a bulge through the healed incision of a previous surgery in your abdomen. An incisional hernia is usually caused by weakness in the tissues and muscles of your abdomen. The bulge is usually caused by a part of your intestine, but it may also be tissue or fat pushing through the weakness.

Incisional Hernia

What increases my risk for an incisional hernia?

  • Older age
  • Obesity or poor nutrition
  • Pregnancy
  • Previous infection at the incision site
  • Smoking
  • Straining during bowel movements, coughing, or heavy lifting
  • Medicines, such as steroids

What are the signs and symptoms of an incisional hernia?

  • Pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swelling or a soft bulge along your old incision
  • Bloating

How is an incisional hernia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will look and feel for a bulge in your incision. Your provider may ask you to lie down with your legs bent. You may also be asked to cough while standing up. You may need a CT scan to show the hernia. You may be asked to drink contrast liquid to help the hernia show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

How is an incisional hernia treated?

  • Medicines:
    • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
    • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • A hernia reduction is when your healthcare provider pushes the hernia back into your body without surgery. You may be given medicine to relax your muscles to make it easier to push the bulge back in.
  • Surgery may be needed to repair your hernia. Surgery may be done through a few small incisions in your abdomen or one larger incision. Mesh may be placed to strengthen your abdominal tissues.

How can I help prevent another incisional hernia?

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider what a healthy weight is for your. Your provider can help you create a weight loss plan, if needed. Ask your healthcare provider what types of food you should eat.
  • Do not strain when you have a bowel movement. Take an over-the-counter bowel movement softener and drink plenty of water. When you cough, hold a pillow against your incision to prevent strain.
  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Ask for information if you need help quitting.
  • Wear your support device as directed. You may need to wear a support device, such as an abdominal binder for up to 2 weeks after surgery. This helps decrease pain and the risk of fluid collecting under your skin.
  • Return to your usual activities as directed. Do not lift more than 10 pounds or do strenuous activity for up to 6 weeks.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have sudden trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain.
  • You have bloody bowel movements.
  • You stop having bowel movements or passing gas.
  • Your abdomen is suddenly very hard.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have nausea and are vomiting.
  • You are constipated.
  • Your hernia has returned.
  • You have a lump, or collection of fluid, under your skin.
  • You have pain that does not go away, even after you take pain medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

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 healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

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