A hernia is a protrusion of a tissue (e.g. intestine or fat) through the wall of the cavity in which it is normally contained. Often a weakness or tear in the abdominal wall muscles results in a hernia. An inguinal hernia refers to a bulge in the groin area, the region between the lower abdomen and the thigh.
An inguinal hernia can appear as a visible bulge in the groin area or the scrotum. The bulge increases in size when standing or straining. It disappears upon lying down. The bulge may be associated with occasional localised pain or discomfort during straining or coughing. When the contents of the hernia cannot be returned to the abdominal cavity, the hernia is called incarcerated or irreducible. When the hernia causes blockage of the intestines, the person may have symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting and constipation. When the blood supply to the entrapped intestine is compromised (strangulation), this is a medical emergency and needs immediate medical attention.
It is advisable to seek medical attention whenever a hernia is suspected or found.
A physical examination is adequate for the diagnosis of an inguinal hernia in most instances. An ultrasound scan may be helpful in certain situations.
An operation is usually recommended to repair the hernia. This can be performed through an open or laparoscopic approach. In an open hernia repair, an incision is made over the location of the hernia and the repair is done with a mesh, or less frequently, by suturing the tissues together. In a laparoscopic repair, the operation is performed by instruments placed through small incisions in the abdominal wall. With the laparoscopic approach, there is less pain and quicker return to normal activities.
An inguinal hernia may occur without a definite cause.
Male gender – Men are more likely to develop inguinal hernias than women.
Old age – The muscles tend to become weaker as the person gets older.
High intra-abdominal pressure caused by, for example, heavy lifting, or pregnancy.
Connective tissue disorders e.g. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.