Inguinal Hernia Symptoms and Treatments

Inguinal hernias affect more men than women and require treatment

Inguinal Hernia
Inguinal Hernia. Getty Images/Science Picture Co

Inguinal hernias, or ruptures as they are sometimes known, are the most common type of a hernia, accounting for 70 percent of all hernia cases. Men are 10 times more likely than women to get an inguinal hernia because of a weakness that remains along the inguinal canal following the descent of the testicles into the scrotum prior to birth.

During a lifetime, 25 percent of men and 2 percent of women will develop inguinal hernias.

Each year, over 500,000 American men require surgical repair of a hernia after reporting any variety of inguinal hernia symptoms.

What Is an Inguinal Hernia?

An inguinal hernia occurs when fat or a loop of intestine enters the inguinal canal in the groin area, between the pubis and the top of the leg. The intestine goes through the lower layers of the weakened abdominal wall and creates a lump.

There are two types of inguinal hernias:

Indirect inguinal hernias result from a defect or weakness in the abdominal wall that is congenital or present at birth.

Direct inguinal hernias usually only occur in adult men and result from a weakness in the muscles of the abdominal wall that develops over time.

Causes of Inguinal Hernia

There is often no apparent cause. Heavy lifting, straining when using the bathroom, constipation, excessive coughing or sneezing, vigorous exercise or sex can be contributory factors. Some people are at more risk than others, including those with a family history of a hernia, people with cystic fibrosis and those with an undescended testicle.

Signs and Symptoms of Inguinal Hernia

Inguinal hernias usually first appear as a small bulge on the side of the groin between the lower abdomen and the thigh. In rare cases, an inguinal hernia and bulge can develop on both sides of the groin. The bulge will usually disappear when lying down, and it can increase in size over time.

Other signs and symptoms of inguinal hernias include:

  • Tenderness or sharp pain in the groin often aggravated by lifting or bending.
  • A tender lump in the groin or scrotum that enlarges when you cough, sneeze or strain.
  • Swelling and enlargement of the scrotum in boys and men.

Treatment for Inguinal Hernia

Treatment is important to avoid a potentially serious condition called a strangulated hernia. This is when the bulging through the muscle wall obstructs the flow of blood to the intestine or stops the flow of intestinal contents, leading to tissue death.

Surgery for Inguinal Hernia

An inguinal hernia can often be reduced (pushed back into place). If this doesn't work, then surgery is required under a general anesthetic. The segment of bowel is put back in the abdominal cavity and the muscle is closed. A piece of plastic mesh is sometimes used to reinforce the weakened muscle area. A dry dressing protects the incision area for a few days.

About 1 in 10 inguinal hernia sufferers may need to have a hernia repaired again. These recurrent inguinal hernias are usually the result of trauma to the operation site or to poor tissue healing.

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