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Inguinal Hernia in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is an inguinal hernia?

An inguinal hernia happens when organs or abdominal tissue push through a weak spot in your child's abdominal wall. The abdominal wall is made of fat and muscle. It holds the organs in place. The hernia may contain fluid, tissue from the abdomen, or part of an organ (such as an intestine).

What causes inguinal hernias in children?

Hernias are more common in premature infants. Your child has a greater risk for a hernia if someone in his or her family had an inguinal hernia. Certain health problems, such as cystic fibrosis or an undescended testicle, also increase your child's risk for a hernia. A hernia may be caused by an opening in the abdominal wall that does not close at birth. Weakness in the abdominal wall can also cause a hernia.

What are the signs and symptoms of an inguinal hernia?

You may see a bulge or lump in your child's groin, lower abdomen, labia (outer skin flaps of the female genitals) or scrotum. Inguinal hernias usually do not cause pain. Signs and symptoms may disappear when your child lies flat or relaxes. They may get worse when your child cries, coughs, stands up, or strains to have a bowel movement.

How is an inguinal hernia diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child's abdomen and groin for bumps. The provider may try to reduce the hernia manually. Manual reduction means your child's healthcare provider will use hands to put firm, steady pressure on the hernia. The provider will continue until the hernia disappears inside the abdominal wall. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Blood or urine tests may be used to check kidney function or find signs of infection.
  • X-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI pictures may show the tissue or organ that is contained within the hernia. It may also show if there is a lack of blood flow to the organ, a blockage in the intestines, or a hole in the intestines. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help the organs show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his or her body.

How is an inguinal hernia treated?

Your child's inguinal hernia may get better without treatment. Surgery may be needed to place the hernia back inside your child's abdominal wall. Surgery may be needed immediately if your child's hernia stops blood flow to the intestines. It may also be done immediately if it causes a hole in your child's intestines or prevents bowel movements.

How can I manage my child's hernia?

  • Give your child liquids, and foods high in fiber, as directed. Liquids and fiber may prevent constipation or straining during a bowel movement. This may prevent the hernia from getting bigger. Ask how much liquid to give your child each day and which liquids are best for him or her. Foods that contain fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains.

  • Do not place anything over your child's hernia. Do not place tape or a coin over the hernia. This may harm your child.
  • Give your child NSAIDs as directed. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, help decrease 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 your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's hernia gets bigger, is firm, or is blue or purple.
  • Your child's abdomen seems larger, rounder, or more full than normal.
  • Your child stops having bowel movements and stops passing gas.
  • Your child has blood in his or her bowel movement.
  • Your child is crying more than normal or seems like he or she is in pain.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child is vomiting.
  • Your child has trouble having a bowel movement.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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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