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Published on June 26, 2017

Q and A: Inguinal hernias

When and how they’re treated

inguinal herniaAbout 2 percent of all people will develop a type of hernia in their groin called an inguinal hernia. Men are 25 times more likely to have one than women.

An inguinal hernia happens when tissue—often part of the small intestine—bulges through a weak spot in the lower wall of the abdomen. Leon E. Clarke, MD, a general surgeon at Mercy Fitzgerald and Mercy Philadelphia Hospitals, answers questions about this most common type of hernia.

What causes an inguinal hernia?

Some people are born with a weakness in the abdominal wall that develops into an inguinal hernia. But one can also occur later in life as the muscles of the abdominal wall weaken.

What are the symptoms?

There may not be any. But when they occur, they usually include a lump in the groin area and a tugging or pulling feeling. The discomfort often gets worse with coughing, lifting or straining. But it goes away with rest.

Sometimes part of the intestine may get trapped within the hernia and cause sudden pain that doesn’t go away, redness, nausea and vomiting. These are signs of a potentially life-threatening problem that needs emergency treatment. Call your doctor or 911 immediately if you experience them.

How are hernias typically treated?

Small hernias with no symptoms may not need any treatment—just close monitoring. But surgery is usually advisable for larger hernias or ones that cause symptoms. During surgery, doctors push back the bulging tissue and strengthen the abdominal wall. Surgery is often done using several small incisions—rather than one large cut—which speeds healing and eases pain.

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