What is a hernia?

A hernia is a common condition that occurs when part of an internal organ or tissue bulges through a muscle. Hernias can occur around the belly button, through a surgical scar, in the diaphragm, or in the groin (the area between the abdomen and the thigh on both sides of the body).

What is an inguinal hernia?

An inguinal hernia occurs when the intestines or fat from the abdomen bulge through the lower abdominal wall into the inguinal, or groin, area.

There are 2 types of inguinal hernias:

  • Indirect inguinal hernias: This type of hernia is caused by a birth defect in the abdominal wall that is congenital (present at birth).
  • Direct inguinal hernias: This type of hernia usually occurs in adult males. These are most often caused by a weakness in the muscles of the abdominal wall that develops over time, or are due to straining or heavy lifting.

Hernias can be on one or both sides of the abdomen. Direct inguinal hernias are more common later in life because the abdominal wall weakens with age.

An inguinal hernia is usually not dangerous. However, it can be painful, especially when lifting, bending, straining with a bowel movement, or coughing. Direct inguinal hernias usually occur in adult males whose abdominal muscles have weakened.

Who gets an inguinal hernia?

Adult males over age 40 are much more likely to develop direct inguinal hernias than females. About 25% of males, and only about 2% of females, will develop an inguinal hernia in their lifetime.

A family history of having an inguinal hernia, smoking, and men who have had previous abdominal surgery are at greater risk for developing an inguinal hernia.

What is an incarcerated or strangulated inguinal hernia?

Incarceration or strangulation of inguinal hernias is rare, but serious complications can develop if a hernia is left untreated.

  • Incarcerated hernia: Incarceration occurs when part of the fat or intestine from inside the abdomen gets stuck in the groin or scrotum and cannot go back into the abdomen.
  • Strangulated hernia: Strangulation can occur when an incarcerated hernia is not treated. The blood supply to the intestine can be cut off, causing “strangulation” of the intestine. This is a very serious condition. You should seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you have an incarcerated or strangulated inguinal hernia.

What are the symptoms of an inguinal hernia?

Inguinal hernias may be painless or cause no symptoms, especially when they first appear. Symptoms that can develop include:

  • A bulge on one or both sides of the groin that disappears when lying down.
  • Pain in the groin, especially when lifting, coughing or exercising.
  • A feeling of weakness, heaviness or burning in the groin.
  • A swollen scrotum (the sac-like a part of the male genitalia underneath the penis).

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