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Hernia Repair 101

Your doctor says that you have a hernia, but you’re not sure what that means, and you’re confused about the treatment options. Here are a few things that you should know:

What is a hernia?

When tissue from your body bulges from your abdomen or another organ — that protrusion is called a hernia, according to Jorge Rabaza, M.D. [1], a general surgeon and a member of the Baptist Health Medical Group.

There are several types of hernia, Dr. Rabaza says:

  • Inguinal: [2] Bulge in the groin area. This is one of the most common types of abdominal hernia.
  • Umbilical [3]: Occurs when tissue from the abdomen or a portion of one of the abdominal organs creates a bulge in the belly button area, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Incisional: Bulge or protrusion that develops after surgery along the incision area.
  • Femoral hernia [4]: Bulge in the upper thigh, just below the groin. This type of hernia is more common in women.
  • Hiatal hernia [5]:  A type of hernia where part of the stomach becomes herniated in the chest area.
  • What are the symptoms?

    “Sometimes there is pain, and sometimes the patient just feels the bulge,” says Rupa Seetharamaiah, [6] M.D. a general surgeon from West Kendall Baptist Hospital and a member of the Baptist Health Medical Group.

    Other signs include: 

  • Mild discomfort, burning, or aching feeling in the affected area.
  • Weakness or feeling of heaviness.
  • Gurgling sensation at the site of bulge.
  • Acid reflux, chest pain, and a burning sensation may also accompany hiatal hernias, she says.
  • “Not everyone experiences pain, but pain is something that should be looked at right away,” Dr. Rabaza says.

    What are the health risks?

    The risks increase if a hernia becomes either incarcerated or strangulated, medical experts say.

    An incarcerated hernia occurs when an organ — usually the intestines — also protrudes through the bulging tissue and cannot return back to the abdomen. For instance, your intestines can bulge out from a weakness in the abdominal wall, according to the NIH.

    A life-threatening situation can develop when the incarcerated hernia becomes a strangulated hernia by cutting the blood supply from the affected organ. In that case, emergency surgery should take place, Dr. Seetharamaiah says.   

    What are the treatment options?

    Surgery is recommended when a patient has a symptomatic hernia. Patients need emergency surgery if they have an incarcerated or strangulated hernia.

    Hernias can be repaired through traditional open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. In both procedures, the hernia is located, separated from surrounding tissue; and then removed or pushed back into place. Weakness in the surrounding tissue wall is fortified by small sutures, or the surgeon inserts a mesh made from synthetic fabric or biological materials.

    “The mesh gives you added protection in that area and reduces the tension on the surrounding tissue or organ walls,” Dr. Seetharamaiah says.

    In laparoscopic or robot-assisted surgery, a tiny camera attached to a thin tube is inserted through a small incision about the size of a dime in the lower belly area. Small surgical instruments are inserted through other small openings and the hernia is either removed or repaired.

    Several factors, including the size and location of the hernia, will determine which type of surgery your doctor will recommend.   

    “If your hernia is not causing you problems, you may not need surgery. However, these hernias most often do not go away on their own, and they may get larger,” according to the NIH.

    “Generally, I tell people to get the hernia repaired to avoid complications and to prevent future problems,” Dr. Rabaza says.