Inguinal Hernia

What is an Inguinal Hernia?

An inguinal hernia is a condition in which a portion of the intestine or fatty tissue protrudes through what is known as the inguinal canal. The inguinal canal is located in the lower abdomen. For women, the inguinal canal is where the uterine ligament is located and for men, the testes emerge through the inguinal canal before they are born.

Essentially, an inguinal hernia occurs when there is a weakness in the abdominal muscles that allows part of the intestine push through it. This creates a bulge which may be large or small and can cause discomfort and pain. Some inguinal hernias cause no noticeable symptoms and may clear up on their own without the person even knowing it was ever an issue.

There are numerous possible causes for inguinal hernias. Weakened groin and abdominal muscles are, of course, the primary cause. Certain factors also put a person more at risk of developing an inguinal hernia. These factors include pregnancy, obesity, cystic fibrosis, and being born prematurely. Men suffer from inguinal hernias more often than women as well, though people of both sexes can get them.

What are the Symptoms of an Inguinal Hernia?

When a person suffers from an inguinal hernia, they may notice a visible bulge on either side of their pelvic region which may be more visible when a person is exercising or coughing. Sometimes, the inguinal hernia may cause pain when the person moves, bends, coughs, sneezes, or exercises as well. Inguinal hernias also often cause a burning sensation, a feeling of heaviness or weakness, or vomiting and nausea.

Inguinal Hernia Causes

Inguinal hernias occur when part of the small intestine pushes through the abdominal wall into the groin area. This happens when there is a weak area in the abdominal muscles that allows the hernia to form. There are two kinds of Inguinal Hernias. Indirect hernias are congenital and are caused by some factor during gestation that leads to weakness of part of the abdomen or if the inguinal ring that allows the testes to drop in males does not close completely or reopens for some reason. Direct hernias typically occur in older men and are formed by weakness in the abdominal wall that happens over time. External factors can then cause the hernia to develop. Coughing, lifting heavy objects, difficult bowel movements, and obesity can all contribute to the onset of an inguinal hernia. Men are much more likely to develop these hernias than women.

How is an Inguinal Hernia Treated?

Some inguinal hernias will resolve on their own and if a hernia is small, a doctor may simply recommend monitoring and rest to see if the situation will resolve on its own.

However, because most inguinal hernias that patients seek treatment for are painful, surgery is often recommended. Laproscopic and open surgeries can be performed to place the protruding intestine back where it belongs and to repair the weakened area of the abdominal muscles. When the inguinal hernia is strangulated, meaning the blood supply was cut off from that area, the affected portion of the intestine will also need to be removed and the healthy portions reattached.

Inguinal Hernia Prevention

Indirect hernias, because they are caused congenitally, cannot be prevented, only treated if that is necessary. Hernias of any kind typically are not dangerous although they can be painful, particularly during movement. Surgical repair of the abdominal wall is the usual treatment. Direct hernias can be prevented by getting regular exercise and keeping the core muscles of the abdominal area strong. Another preventative measure is to maintain a healthy body weight, as obesity can put excess pressure on the abdomen and cause a hernia. A healthy diet with plenty of fiber and water to help prevent constipation and the need to strain during bowel movements is helpful. Finally, avoidance of lifting heavy objects avoided, can help prevent hernias. When it cannot be avoided, careful and correct form is vital. Using the stronger muscles of the legs to lift instead of the back and abdominal muscles is very important in preventing many kinds of injuries including inguinal hernias.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
February 15, 2018