When people use the term hernia they are usually referring to an inguinal hernia.
An inguinal hernia is commonly referred to as a rupture. It occurs in the groin
at the level of the groin crease.
The term hernia means that a portion of gut has bulged out through a gap in
the abdominal muscles giving rise to a small swelling in the groin. Hernias
occur in both sexes and can affect all age groups from infancy to old age.
There is a related condition known as a femoral hernia. It is similar in many
respects to an inguinal hernia except that it arises just below the groin crease.
What causes an inguinal hernia?
Inguinal hernias are very common in infants under the age of one year. They
occur as a result of a congenital weakness in the abdominal wall and are easily
The following is a list of causes of hernia in older people:
- excessive coughing,
- straining while lifting heavy objects,
- loss of abdominal muscle tone due to old age,
- severe constipation resulting in straining at stool.
Many people with a hernia will have diagnosed the condition themselves because
they will have noticed a bulge or swelling in the groin. The swelling increases
in size throughout the day depending on the level of physical activity. Usually
the hernia reduces in size after a night's sleep and may not be visible the
next morning on first waking up.
Some people may complain of pain or discomfort in the area of the swelling.
Others may complain of a bloated feeling. If the level of discomfort is becoming
more severe over the course of the day or if there is any difficulty in passing
stools, medical advice should be sought.
What does it look like?
An inguinal hernia is usually easily identifiable as a swelling in the groin.
The examining doctor will usually request that the patient give a cough, which
increases the size of the bulge. This is known as a cough impulse. Hernias can
range in size from a small barely visible swelling to a bulge the size of a
How is it treated?
Hernias are best repaired through elective surgery. The traditional operation
involves making an incision parallel to the groin crease. The portion of gut
or intestine that has created the bulge is pushed back into the abdominal cavity.
The defect in the abdominal muscles, through which the gut has bulged outwards,
is then repaired. A piece of plastic mesh is stitched in place as part of the
repair. Hernia surgery is a repair procedure and does not involve removal of
the swelling. It simply reduces the swelling and repairs the defect in the lower
Traditional hernia repair requires a hospital stay of several days' duration.
Increasing numbers of people now undergo a keyhole procedure, which results
in a shorter hospital stay and quicker convalescence.
Infants requiring hernia repair are usually sent home a few hours after undergoing
surgery. This is perfectly safe and is standard practice in most paediatric
In the past many people were treated with a surgical truss. A truss is a support
device that prevents the hernia from bulging out. They are rarely used nowadays
and surgical treatment remains the treatment of choice.
Can a hernia be dangerous?
The principal risk with a hernia is that it can strangulate. This means that
the bulge into the groin gets stuck and is unable to reduce back into the abdomen.
As a result of this process the bowel obstructs leading to swelling of the abdomen
and increasing pain. A strangulated hernia is a surgical emergency and requires
Back to top.