There are an estimated 3 million new hernia cases in the United States each year, a painful condition for those they affect.
"They're one of the most common surgical problems I see," said Dr. Christopher Senkowski, general and cancer surgeon at Memorial Health University Medical Center. "I see many patients who come to my office for a hernia consultation, and it's also very frequent in the emergency room for patients needing emergency surgery."
The severity of hernias can vary greatly, as can the cause and type of hernia.
What Causes a Hernia?
Hernias are caused by weaknesses in the abdominal wall tissues. Because of this, there are many potential reasons a patient could get a hernia, including age, chronic coughing, pregnancy, constipation, heavy weightlifting or sudden weight gain. Hernias also can be congenital, meaning the condition exists from birth. Congenital hernias can include belly button, or umbilical, hernias and groin, or inguinal, hernias.
Patients are especially susceptible to hernias after they've had abdominal surgery. Surgery can weaken the fascial tissue surrounding abdominal muscles, leading to a breach or separation. There are several factors that can influence your likelihood of developing a hernia after surgery:
- Women who have C-sections or hysterectomies or men who have abdominal surgeries.
- How the tissue was closed during surgery.
- Smoking. Nicotine directly damages blood vessels, which negatively affects healing post-surgery.
- If surgical incisions get infected, surrounding tissue won't heal as well and scars won't form as tightly, which can allow hernias to develop.
What Are the Risks?
If left untreated, hernias can become incarcerated and require emergency surgery. An incarcerated hernia occurs when the protruding organ or fat becomes pinched so tightly that it cannot be pushed back into the abdomen or groin.
“Over a few hours, an incarcerated hernia can turn into a strangulated hernia when it is pinched so tightly that the blood flow is cut off to that organ or piece of internal fat,” said Senkowski. “Incarcerated hernias and especially strangulated hernias are a surgical emergency and need to be repaired immediately.”
What Are the Symptoms?
- Newly discovered lump in the abdominal wall or groin
- Pain at suspected hernia site
- Bowel obstruction coinciding with the lump
- Groin or swelling of the scrotum
How Are Hernias Repaired?
- Open surgical repair or complex abdominal wall reconstruction for incisional hernia repair in patients needing durable strength.
- Laparoscopic Surgery. Surgeons make a series of small incisions, rather than a large surgical opening, to insert the mesh. With this method, there is a decreased risk of infection because the incisions are small.
- Robotic Surgery. Incisions are similar to laparoscopic surgery, but the surgeon uses a surgical robot to assist with performing the surgery. The surgeon operates the robot from a nearby console, using a screen with a high-definition 3D image from inside the patient’s body. Robotic surgery enables a wider range of motion than laparoscopic surgery, often meaning fewer and smaller incisions.