General and Gastrointestinal Surgery

Treatment Q and A

What should I do about a hernia?

Hernias should be repaired surgically at a convenient time. Like any medical problem you may have, Murphy's Law dictates that it will bother you when it is most inconvenient. Unfortunately, there is no other treatment other than surgery that has significant success.

Can a hernia go away by itself?

No. Once a hernia has developed it will not go away. In fact, it will get worse with time. The constant pressure on the area makes the hernia get bigger. This leads to more frequent, more intense and longer periods of discomfort.

Is there any treatment for a hernia other than surgery?

You may have heard of a truss. A truss is a belt with a large pad on it that applies pressure to the site of the hernia with the aim of keeping the bulge from popping out. Overall, a truss is not a good idea, even though at times it may  work. The truss does nothing to repair the hernia. It just minimizes symptoms by preventing significant herniation. As a result, the hernia will continue to get larger. In addition, there will be scar tissue formed that provides no strength to the area. Both of these factors, enlargement of the hernia and scarring, make the surgical repair of the hernia more difficult and later recurrence more likely. Therefore, a truss should only be used as a short-term measure until surgery can be performed.

Why should I get it repaired?

Two obvious reasons for getting a hernia fixed are the frequent episodes of pain, aggravated by prolonged standing or heavy lifting, and the cosmetic deformity produced by having a bulge in the groin. The main reason to have a hernia repaired is that there is always a chance that intestine will get trapped in the hernia and not be able to get out. This produces a bowel obstruction. A hernia whose contents will not come out is called an incarcerated hernia, which is almost always associated with unrelenting discomfort. 

Bowel obstruction results in groin pain, abdominal distention and vomiting. If the bowel remains in the hernia too long, the blood supply can become compromised and the intestine can die. This leads to a catastrophic, and occasionally fatal, strangulated hernia. Years ago, hernias were the most common causes of bowel obstruction. Today, with early treatment of hernias, incarcerated and strangulated hernias are rare.

What can I do before surgery to feel better?

Limiting your activity and any lifting may offer temporary relief. You should avoid exercise, especially any that places strain on the anterior abdominal wall muscles. A truss may also offer temporary relief, but should not be used for a extended period of time.

Is hernia surgery a common operation?

Yes. Each year, approximately 600,000 Americans undergo a hernia repair. It is among the top ten most frequently performed procedures in the United States.

Are there different types of surgery to repair an inguinal hernia?

Yes. There are two broad groups of surgical approaches to inguinal hernia repair, each having variations within it. These are the traditional method of open hernia surgery and the newer method of laparoscopic hernia surgery. In addition, different types of anesthesia can be provided for the hernia repair. These include local anesthesia, spinal or epidural anesthesia and general anesthesia. Learn more about open hernia surgery vs laparoscopic hernia surgery.