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When is it Time for Hernia Surgery?

by Timothy Judge, MD, FACS

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Have you ever noticed a small bulge in your abdomen or groin? Even if it isn’t painful, it could be a hernia. Unfortunately, aside from resting and taking ibuprofen for pain, there isn’t much you can do on your own to treat a hernia, but have a general surgeon repair the hernia.

What is a Hernia?

A hernia happens when tissue, intestines, or other organs push through an opening between muscles or connective tissue. This will usually cause a bulge you can see under your skin. Typically, hernias happen in the abdomen or groin, but they can also occur in the thigh or genitals. According to Food and Drug Administration, more than one million hernia repairs are performed each year in the U.S.

Hernias are named for the place on your body they occur. Types of hernias include:

  • Incisional hernia — forms through a previous surgical incision.
  • Hiatal hernia — forms in the diaphragm, which separates the chest cavity and the abdomen.
  • Umbilical hernia — forms at the navel.
  • Inguinal hernia — forms in the groin. 
  • Femoral hernia — forms just below the groin.
  • Epigastric hernia — forms in the upper abdomen. 

Unfortunately, there is no age-limit on hernias. Your risks of developing a hernia are higher if you are male, have a family history, smoke, are overweight, or have had previous abdominal surgery.

The most common symptom of a hernia is the bulge you see under your skin, but you may also feel a burning, aching, or pain that gets worse with coughing, lifting, or straining. Not all patients complain of the same symptoms, so if you suspect you may have a hernia, visit your doctor. A doctor can easily diagnose a hernia through a physical exam.

How to Treat a Hernia

Surgery is often the recommended treatment. Your general surgeon will exam you and determine the type and size of your hernia. What that exam reveals will determine your surgical options—open repair, minimally invasive, or robotic.

During hernia repair, the surgeon will either suture the opening in the muscle or tissue or insert a mesh material to close the opening. The mesh is a permanent material that supports and strengthens the weakened area where the hernia formed.

If possible, the general surgeon will perform minimally invasive surgery through several small incisions, rather than one large incision. Patients may also have hernia repair using an innovative robotic system that allows for greater precision using only small incisions. 

The best advice, if you think you have a hernia get to a doctor right away. The longer you wait, the more difficult the surgery may be. If you have questions about your symptoms or hernia repairs,