How is a hernia treated?

Hernias usually do not get better on their own, and surgery may be the only way to repair them. However, your doctor will recommend the best therapy to address your hernia, and may refer you to a surgeon. If the surgeon thinks it is necessary to repair your hernia, then the surgeon will tailor the method of repair that best meets your needs.

In the case of an umbilical hernia in a child, surgery may be recommended if the hernia is large or if it has not healed by the age of 4–5 years old. By this age, a child can usually avoid surgical complications.

If an adult has an umbilical hernia, surgery is usually recommended because the condition will not likely improve on its own and the risk of complications is higher.

One of three types of hernia surgery can be performed:

  • Open surgery, in which a cut is made into the body at the location of the hernia. The protruding tissue is set back in place and the weakened muscle wall is stitched back together. Sometimes a type of mesh is implanted in the area to provide extra support.
  • Laparoscopic surgery involves the same type of repairs. However, instead of a cut to the outside of the abdomen or groin, tiny incisions are made to allow for the insertion of surgical tools to complete the procedure.
  • Robotic hernia repair, like laparoscopic surgery, uses a laparoscope, and is performed with small incisions. With robotic surgery, the surgeon is seated at a console in the operating room, and handles the surgical instruments from the console. While robotic surgery can be used for some smaller hernias, or weak areas, it can now also be used to reconstruct the abdominal wall.

Each type of surgery has its advantages and disadvantages. The best approach will be decided by the patient’s surgeon.

What can happen if a hernia is not treated?

Other than umbilical hernias in babies, hernias will not disappear on their own. Over time, a hernia can grow larger and more painful or can develop complications.

Complications of an untreated inguinal or femoral hernia may include:

  • Obstruction (incarceration): Part of the intestine becomes stuck in the inguinal canal, causing nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and a painful lump in the groin.
  • Strangulation: Part of the intestine is trapped in a way that cuts off its blood supply. In such cases, emergency surgery (within hours of occurring) is necessary to prevent tissue death.

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