Doctor, I have a lump in my groin/ on my abdomen for 2 weeks. It is bigger when I stand up or doing my gardening, but disappears when I go to sleep or lie down. It is not painful but I feel heavy in my groin. Recently, it became slightly bigger and giving me some dull ache in it. Am I having a groin hernia?
What is a hernia?
- A hernia is an abnormal outpouching of an organ out of its containing cavity via a natural or acquired weakness of the cavity wall. It can happen in many locations but the commonly seen hernias are in the tummy (abdomen) and groin.
- The common abdominal hernias are inguinal, femoral, hiatal, incisional, umbilical and paraumbilical hernia. It commonly presents as a lump or swelling at your abdomen or groin.
- The lump can often be pushed back in or disappears when you lie down. Coughing or straining may make the lump appear. However, in severe cases, the lump may not be pushed in and may be associated with a lot of pain.
What is an inguinal hernia?
It is a hernia that occurs in the groin. Fatty tissue or part of the bowel are commonly involved, pokes through the groin at the top of our inner thigh, forming a lump/swelling. The common two types of inguinal hernia are:-
- Indirect inguinal hernia – caused by a defect in the abdominal wall that is present since birth, but may present later in life.
- Direct inguinal hernia – caused by a weakness in the abdominal wall that develops over time
Who is more likely to develop inguinal hernia?
- Male – male has ~25% lifetime risk of developing inguinal hernia but female has only ~2% lifetime risk.
- Age – inguinal hernia can happen at any age. Premature infant has higher chance of developing indirect hernia. Indirect hernia tends to presents before 30 years old whereas direct hernia commonly presents after 40 years old.
- People with family history of hernias
What are the signs and symptoms of inguinal hernia?
The first sign of an inguinal hernia is a small bulge on one, or sometimes both, groin(s). The bulge may increase in size over time and usually disappears when lying down. Other signs and symptoms can include:-
- discomfort or pain in the groin – especially when straining, lifting, coughing, or exercising – that improves when resting
- weakness, heaviness, burning, or aching in the groin
- a swollen or an enlarged scrotum in men or boys – inguinal hernias may slide in and out into the scrotum.
What are the complications of inguinal hernia?
Inguinal hernia can cause the following complications:-
- Incarceration. The hernia content became stucked in the groin or the scrotum. This can cause discomfort or pain then leads to more severe complications such as bowel obstruction or strangulation.
- Obstruction. The part of bowel that is kinked and blocked. It is life-threatening and requires urgent surgery.
- Strangulation. The blood supply to the incarcerated herniated bowel becomes kinked, twisted or blocked, causing the bowel to die. It is life-threatening and requires immediate surgery. Bowel resection may be required.
Dangerous signs that one should seek immediate care
- Extreme pain or redness in the area of the swelling in the groin
- Sudden pain that worsens quickly and does not go away
- Cannot pass bowel movement or gas
- Nauseated, vomiting, fever
How are inguinal hernias diagnosed?
Doctor can diagnose an inguinal hernia by medical history taking and physical examination. He may get further imaging tests if needed, such as X-Ray, ultrasound or CT scan of the abdomen.
How are inguinal hernias treated?
Surgical repair is the only effective hernia treatment, especially for people with hernias that cause symptoms. It prevents incarceration, obstruction and strangulation. Emergent or immediate surgery is needed for incarcerated or strangulated hernias.
A synthetic mesh is commonly used in the hernia repair to strengthen the abdominal wall and to reduce hernia recurrence.
Recovery after the surgery is usually fast. However, it depends on the size of the hernia, the surgical technique, the age and the health of the patient. There are two main inguinal hernia surgical repair approaches:-
Laparoscopic Inguinal Hernia Repair
This procedure is done under general anaesthesia. The surgeon makes several tiny cuts, each about 0.3 – 1 cm, on the abdomen, and inserts a laparoscope – a thin tube with tiny video camera attached that sends a magnified closed up image from inside the body to a monitor. While watching the monitor, the surgeon uses the small thin instruments carefully repair the hernia/defect with a synthetic mesh. The patient who had this procedure commonly recovers very soon and able to return to work much faster because of lesser pain and smaller wounds than convention open hernia repair.
Open Inguinal Hernia Repair
This procedure can be done under general anaesthesia, spinal anaesthesia (half body) or local anaesthesia (local block). The surgeon makes an incision in the groin, about 4 – 10 cm (depending on the hernia’s size), separates the muscle and fascia layers, repairs the hernia, and reinforces the abdominal wall with stitches and a synthetic mesh to provide additional support.
Can inguinal hernia be prevented?
People cannot prevent the weakness of the abdominal wall that causes indirect inguinal hernia. However, people may be able to prevent direct inguinal hernia by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and not smoking.
People can prevent inguinal hernias worsening or recurring after surgery by
avoiding lifting heavy objects
using the legs, not the back, when lifting objects
avoid constipation and straining during bowel movements
maintain a healthy weight