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Home > Health Library > Inguinal Hernia
An inguinal hernia (say "IN-gwuh-nul HER-nee-uh") happens when tissue bulges through a weak spot in your groin area. You may see or feel a tender bulge in the groin or scrotum. You may also have pain, pressure or burning, or a feeling that something has "given way."
Most inguinal hernias happen because an opening in the muscle wall does not close as it should before birth, leaving a weak area in the belly muscle. Pressure on that area can cause tissue to push through the belly and bulge out.
Belly muscles that are torn or weakened can also cause the condition.
The main symptom of an inguinal hernia is a bulge in the groin or scrotum. It often feels like a round lump and may be uncomfortable or painful. The bulge may form over a period of weeks or months. Or it may appear suddenly after an activity that strains the groin.
A doctor can usually tell if you have an inguinal hernia based on your symptoms and a physical exam. The bulge of a hernia is usually easy to feel.
Only surgery can repair an inguinal hernia. But if your hernia does not bother you and it causes no other problems, you may not need treatment right now. Hernias in babies and young children can be more dangerous and generally need to be repaired with surgery right away.
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Most inguinal hernias cannot be prevented, especially in infants and children. Adults may be able to prevent a few hernias or prevent a hernia from recurring by using some common self-care steps.
Being overweight creates greater abdominal pressure and increases your risk for developing an inguinal hernia. Stay at a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
Rapid weight-loss programs may be lacking in protein and vitamins that are needed for muscle strength, causing weakness in the muscles of the abdomen.
Chronic coughing from smoking increases the risk for developing a hernia.
Constipation and straining during bowel movements and urination causes increased pressure inside the abdomen.
Use good body mechanics when you lift heavy objects. Lift with your legs, not with your back.
The main symptom of an inguinal hernia is a bulge in the groin or scrotum. It often feels like a round lump. The bulge may form over a period of weeks or months. Or it may appear suddenly after you've been lifting heavy weights, coughing, bending, straining, or laughing. The hernia may be uncomfortable or painful. Some cause no pain.
A hernia also may cause swelling and a feeling of heaviness, tugging, or burning in the area of the hernia. These symptoms may get better when you lie down.
In babies, a hernia may bulge when the child cries or moves around.
Strangulated hernias, which happen when part of the intestine gets trapped in the hernia, are more common in babies and children than in adults. They can cause nausea and vomiting and severe pain. A baby with a strangulated hernia may cry and refuse to eat.
Inguinal hernias typically flatten or disappear when they are pushed gently back into place or when you lie down. Over time, hernias tend to increase in size as the abdominal muscle wall becomes weaker and more tissue bulges through.
If you can't push your hernia back into your belly, it is incarcerated. A hernia gets incarcerated when tissue moves into the sac of the hernia and fills it up. This is not necessarily an emergency.
But if a loop of the intestine is trapped very tightly in the hernia, the blood supply to that part of the intestine can be cut off (strangulated), causing tissue to die. In a man, if tissue is trapped, the testicle and its blood vessels can also be damaged.
A strangulated hernia is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgery.
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Talk with your doctor before wearing a corset or truss for a hernia. These devices are not recommended for treating hernias. They sometimes can do more harm than good.
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. If you aren't sure if you have a groin muscle strain or a hernia, watchful waiting with home treatment for 1 to 2 weeks is okay to try. If you have pain that is increasing or severe, an obvious lump, or evidence of bowel blockage or urinary symptoms, call your doctor to be checked.
Watchful waiting is not okay for infants and children who have inguinal hernias.
You and your doctor can decide whether you should have surgery to fix your hernia or if you can wait. If your hernia doesn't bother you, you can probably wait to have surgery.
Your doctor can usually diagnose an inguinal hernia by asking questions about your health and doing a physical exam. Tests such as ultrasound and CT scans are not usually needed. In most cases, a doctor can find an inguinal hernia during the physical exam.
Other tests may be needed if you need to have surgery. These tests check the status of any current health problems, such as lung, heart, or bleeding problems.
Only surgery can repair an inguinal hernia. But if the hernia does not bother you and it causes no other problems, you may not need treatment right now.
Many people with hernias have surgery to repair them when more symptoms develop. It is very uncommon for a hernia to become strangulated, a serious problem that happens when part of your intestine gets trapped inside the hernia.
Some people wait to have surgery. Waiting to have surgery does not increase the chance that part of your intestine or belly tissue will get stuck in your hernia. Waiting will also not increase your risk for problems.
The two types of surgeries to repair inguinal hernias are:
Hernias in babies and young children can be more dangerous and often need to be repaired with surgery right away because of the increased risk of incarceration and strangulation.
Current as of:
June 6, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKenneth Bark MD - General Surgery, Colon and Rectal Surgery
Current as of: June 6, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kenneth Bark MD - General Surgery, Colon and Rectal Surgery
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