Treatment Options for Inguinal Hernia

Every year between 600,000 and 700,000 inguinal hernia surgeries take place in the United States. Inguinal hernias are the most common types of hernia, and they can afflict anyone—from infants to seniors. However, men are more likely to get them than women, and African-Americans get inguinal hernias three times more than caucasians.

What is an Inguinal Hernia?

An inguinal hernia is a bulge or protrusion that occurs in the groin or scrotum. This hernia occurs when part of an internal organ (usually the intestine) protrudes through a weakened part of the abdominal wall. If part of the organ becomes stuck inside the hernia, it's referred to as a "strangulated" hernia, which is particularly dangerous because blood supply is cut off.

Symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:

  • A bulge in the groin
  • Pain and swelling in the scrotum
  • Pain or discomfort in your groin when you cough, bend over, lift objects, or exercise
  • Pressure or heaviness in your groin

If the hernia is strangulated or incarcerated, symptoms may include fever, increased heart rate, redness and extreme tenderness around the protrusion.   

What Causes an Inguinal Hernia?

The most likely causes are a weakness in the abdominal muscles and strain from heavy lifting. But, in some cases the cause of an inguinal hernia is unknown. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some factors can make you more prone to developing hernias, such as:

  • Genetics (a family history of hernias)
  • Chronic constipation
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic cough
  • Undescended testicles
  • Enlarged prostate or straining to urinate
  • Birth defect (weakness in the abdominal wall)
  • Aging and weakening in the abdominal wall

What is the Treatment for an Inguinal Hernia?

If left untreated, hernias will become bigger, which could lead to more complications. If you suspect that you have an inguinal hernia, you should visit your doctor.

Some early treatments include massaging the hernia back into the abdomen, which is possible in most cases, states the NIH. Applying an ice packs can make it easier for the hernia to go back into the abdomen. Doctors do not recommend using a belt or bandage to hold in the hernia because it's usually ineffective.

Eventually, however, the treatment for an inguinal hernia will most likely be surgery. There are two types of surgeries used to repair these defects--open hernia repair and laparoscopic hernia repair.

  • Open Hernia Repair
    The surgeon makes one incision near the hernia and pushes the intestine and abdominal tissue back into the abdominal cavity. The abdomen wall is stitched back together and reinforced, possibly using a mesh material.

  • Laparascopic Hernia Repair
    During this procedure the surgeon creates small incisions in the abdomen and pumps gas into the abdominal cavity. Then, a laparascope—a thin tube with a video camera on one end—is inserted.

    The images from the laparascope allow the surgeon to see into the abdomen to repair the hernia. The surgeon will place a piece of surgical mesh to hold in the hernia and secure it using surgical staples.

    After either an open or laparoscopic surgery you'll need to take time off from work. You also shouldn't lift heavy objects or engage in strenuous physical activity for a few weeks.

Which Inguinal Hernia Treatment Is Right for You?

Certain factors can prevent you from being a candidate for a particular inguinal hernia treatment. For instance, people who are overweight or obese, or who have had previous abdominal surgery, cannot undergo laparoscopic hernia repair.

Your doctor will make the decision based on several factors such as your physical condition, medical history, or the type of anesthetic needed. Regardless of which surgery you have, you may suffer post-operative complications such as blood clotting problems, infection, reaction to the anesthetic, and scarring.

In rare cases, an internal organ can be injured, or the hernia may come back. If you experience any complications after surgery, seek medical attention right away.

Also, speak to your doctor to make sure you understand the treatment options for an inguinal hernia, the risks, and what you must do to recover fully afterwards.


National Institutes of Health, the Patient Education Institute, Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, Merck Manuals Online Medical Dictionary, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases