There is a variety of hernia procedures available, and it is always best to talk matters through with a medical expert to help you choose the procedure that is best for your condition and your circumstances.
Surgery will usually be available either as open surgery or sometimes as keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery. The best choice will often depend on the specific features of your case. Keyhole surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that uses a telescopic camera to guide the operation.
The recovery time for hernia surgery is usually two to three weeks, followed by a check-up to see that the healing process is progressing normally.
Hernia surgery can help with the following conditions:
- Inguinal hernia: This is the most common kind of hernia, which can occur if the intestines penetrate a tear or weakened area of the lower abdomen wall. Such hernias are frequently found in the male inguinal canal – an area in the groin region, which allows the spermatic cord to pass from the abdomen through to the scrotum. Though the inguinal canal is also found in females, an inguinal hernia is much more likely to occur as a male condition.
- Hiatal hernia: A hiatal hernia develops when part of the stomach extends upwards through the diaphragm. This results in some gastric problems, usually for the over-50s, and (very rarely) requires a laparoscopic (keyhole) surgical procedure.
- Femoral hernia: Though still comparatively rare, a femoral hernia is a condition that most commonly occurs in women. This hernia is frequently located high on the inner thigh or in the adjoining groin tissue. Appearing as a lump that can be pushed back into place, a femoral hernia is usually painful and needs surgical repair at an early stage.
- Umbilical hernia: An umbilical hernia usually affects young infants up to six months old, and develops when intestines slip through the wall of the abdomen in the umbilical area (bellybutton). This condition is often most noticeable when a child cries. Unlike other kinds of hernia, an umbilical hernia may disappear of its own accord when the child is around 12 months old. When this is not the case, surgery may then be employed to repair the condition.
- Incisional hernia: An incisional hernia may develop at or near the site of previous abdominal surgery. If the earlier procedure weakened the tissues in that region, or if the surgical wound was poorly stitched, your intestines may then protrude through the scar tissue.
In most cases, a hernia repair will be recommended at an early stage to ensure the best outcome. Your doctor will advise you if there are good medical reasons to wait or try any other treatment approaches.
Though hernia repair is a routine and relatively low-risk surgical procedure, well-planned surgery in good time usually reduces the chance of any complications. However, if treatment involves the emergency repair of a more prominently bulging hernia, then the risk of a recurrent hernia is considered to be greater.
Complications that can occur after hernia surgery include:
- seroma (a build-up of fluid in the wound)
- haematoma (a build-up of blood in the wound)
- urine retention
- injury to the bladder
- groin area pain and numbness (often due to nerve damage)
- wound infections
Later complications that may emerge following hernia repair surgery include:
- persistent groin pain
- recurring hernia at the same spot
- neuralgia (nerve pain)
- male testicular complications
Once a hernia occurs, it is most unlikely that it will go away without treatment. So while approaches involving any form of exercise, weight loss or medication may improve other aspects of your general health, they cannot repair a protruding hernia.
In some circumstances, a doctor may advise a ‘watch and wait’ strategy to assess the full extent of your condition and help you decide the best time to undergo a hernia repair. In addition, it may well be that your doctor suggests that some form of truss or hernia belt may help to hold any protruding tissue in place and thus ease your discomfort. These measures are always a temporary solution that should only be adopted on medical advice, because it is possible they will make your condition worse. The vast majority of hernias will require a surgical procedure to offer a permanent solution.