If you have a hernia, here’s how to decide if and when to have it surgically repaired.
A hernia occurs when an organ or tissue pokes through a weak spot in the muscle or connective tissue that’s supposed to hold things in place. This usually occurs in your abdomen, groin or thigh. If you have a hernia, you may notice a bulge in the affected area and feel sharp pain or a dull ache when you lift or push heavy objects, exercise, sit or stand for long periods of time, cough or have a bowel movement.
Unlike some health conditions, hernias don’t get better on their own. The only treatment for hernias is to repair them surgically. Whether or not you need surgery may depend on the size of your hernia and the severity of your symptoms.
Every year, about 600,000 hernia repair surgeries are performed in the U.S. During hernia surgery, a surgeon moves tissue and organs back into place that have pushed through a weak area in the muscle or tissue that holds them in place, then closes the area with stitches. He or she may add a small piece of surgical mesh for extra support.
Today, most hernia repairs are performed using minimally invasive surgical techniques rather than open surgery. The surgeon inserts miniature surgical equipment and a lighted camera through several tiny incisions to repair the hernia. Most people return home just a few hours after surgery and are back to most of their usual activities in a week or two. Lifting and strenuous activity will need to be avoided for four to six weeks following surgery.
If you’ve learned to live with your hernia, you may not be in a hurry to have surgery. However, waiting to schedule your surgery may cause these problems:
- A bigger hernia. It’s much easier to repair a small hernia than a big one. Your recovery period may also be shorter if you have surgery when your hernia is small.
- Increased risk of a strangulated hernia. A strangulated hernia occurs when tissue becomes trapped by the hernia. If this happens, you’ll need emergency surgery to prevent the tissue from dying due to decreased blood flow. The earlier you undergo hernia surgery, the lower the risk that you’ll develop a strangulated hernia.
- Lifestyle changes. A painful hernia may cause you to give up your favorite activities because they’re just too uncomfortable. Often the only way to reduce or eliminate the pain and discomfort of a hernia is to have it surgically repaired.
Deciding when to have hernia repair surgery is a personal decision but it is one that is best made after speaking with a doctor or surgeon you trust. During this conversation, you can learn more about the procedure, as well as the risks and benefits, so you can make an informed decision about whether surgery is right for you.
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Date Last Reviewed: October 11, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD