We look at hernias and the different types that can occur, what kind of symptoms might tell you you have a hernia and what to expect if you’re scheduled to have a hernia operation.
A hernia operation is a common procedure. Thousands are routinely carried out in public and private hospitals around the UK each year, including here at our world-class Hernia Clinic. Men are typically at greater risk of developing hernias and have far more than women, particularly in the groin area, but women can also have them, and almost all instances will require an operation to fix them.
While hernias are common, they’re not necessarily dangerous; but in some cases, and especially if they’re not treated, complications can arise that can be life-threatening. “Hernia” comes from the Latin for “rupture”, and that’s essentially what this condition is: when an area of the abdominal wall or groin becomes weak, and the organs and other contents protrude or push out from the body.
They rarely heal on their own and a hernia operation is usually required, or they will continue to get bigger and worsen. This is when dangerous situations can occur, as blood vessels and parts of the intestines get twisted or strangulated, cutting off supplies and endangering the function of organs.
The different types of hernia that may need an operation
Not all hernias are the same as there are several types, and each may need specialist procedures to repair them. These are the different kinds of hernias that can develop in various parts of the body:
- Inguinal hernia: These occur at the point of a muscle weakness along the top part of the inner thigh. Some of the bowel, or lower intestine, may push through the gap, or it might just be some fatty tissue. Men are more at risk of this common hernia, and it’s more prevalent in older men.
- Femoral hernia: This is similar to inguinal hernias and occurs in the same area of the body, but it’s more often found in women than men. And like with inguinal hernias, age also plays a factor in their development.
- Umbilical hernia: These kinds of hernias occur in the area around the belly button, where a weak part of the abdominal wall allows tissue or the bowel to push through. Umbilical hernias can occur in babies if the belly button doesn’t heal properly after the umbilical cord is cut.
- Hiatus hernia: Most often found in older people, a hiatus hernia occurs when some of the stomach moves into the chest area because of a weakness in the diaphragm, which acts as a partition between the two. Infants are also at risk of this happening if their diaphragm doesn’t develop properly.
There are still more types of hernias, and they include those that can happen after you’ve had a surgical procedure and have a wound that internal organs may poke through. It’s known as an incisional hernia, and another common type is a sports hernia, which is when muscle erupts through a weak part of the wall. It can also happen in the legs, usually between the ankle and knee, especially when playing sports.
Others include epigastric, where part of the intestine moves outwards and Spigelian hernias, when tissue becomes trapped in layers of the abdominal muscles. But these are quite rare, and the cause may be genetic.
How do you know if you might have a hernia?
With so many types of hernia, the symptoms might be different with each, or you may have no signs that there’s anything wrong at all. That may be the case with a hiatal hernia, although you may have heartburn after eating, along with acid reflux and feel somewhat bloated. More generally with hernias, you might feel a bump or slight bulge when you’re standing and find that it disappears when you sit or lie flat because there’s less pressure in the area.
Another indication that you might have a hernia is a sudden pain in your abdomen or groin area. It can also feel like an ache or an aching pain, and it’s common to feel some pressure in the area where a hernia has occurred or is developing.
Men with hernias in the groin often describe a kind of tugging sensation around their reproductive organs while women will typically experience a burning or intense pain in the area surrounding a hernia. Both men and women usually find that any pain or discomfort worsens when they do any kind of activity.
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s vital that you see your doctor straight away because, as we’ve mentioned, hernias rarely heal themselves and medical intervention is required, usually in the form of a hernia operation at a public or private hospital. The longer you leave it before getting medical help, the greater the risk of complications that would be serious.
What does a hernia operation involve?
If you’ve been diagnosed with a hernia and are scheduled to have a hernia operation, you may be wondering what will happen during the surgery and what it involves. The good news is that it’s a routine operation that’s performed at hospitals around the world every day and simply involves making a small incision and gently placing, or pushing, the protruding hernia back into the body.
A hernia operation can be done under general but also local anaesthesia. After the protruding mass is back where it should be, the surgeon will stitch the incision and usually then place a mesh over the hole where the hernia occurred. It may also be necessary to stitch affected muscles around the hernia location. Keyhole surgery, which is less invasive and has faster recovery times, can be used in this kind of surgery.
Most hernia operations are completed in an hour or less, and they can be done on a day-patient basis, meaning you don’t have to stay in hospital overnight. You can expect full recovery to take two or three weeks, and for the first week, you will have to rest and only do minimal activities that don’t place any strain on the abdomen or groin. Lifting something heavy, for instance, could cause a recurrence of the hernia as it pops out of the body again.
If you’ve had a mesh fitted to keep the area around the hernia strong and to stop another one from happening, they usually won’t need to be removed as they’re designed for long-term use as a permanent implant. After your recovery, you can improve your chances of not suffering another hernia by exercising, eating a healthy diet that’s high in fibre and quitting cigarettes if you smoke.
If you’d like more information about a hernia operation at the Hernia Unit of our private hospital, or to have a consultation with one of our leading hernia Consultants, please make an inquiry using our online form or call 020 3370 1014.