A hernia is the protrusion of an organ and its coverings through an opening that does not normally transmit it. Abdominal wall hernia occurs when the contents of the abdominal cavity bulges out of the abdominal wall. This may be fat, intestine, bladder or other organs. Hernias are developed at birth (congenital) or may appear later (acquired).
Hernias may be present at birth and occur when the lining around the abdominal organs fails to close before birth. Hernia may also result if the connective tissue degenerates in the abdominal wall, due to which pressure builds up in the abdominal wall leading to a bulge in the abdomen. Some of the other factors that worsen hernia are chronic cough, obesity, constipation, pregnancy, poor nutrition, smoking and stretching or straining abdominal muscles while lifting heavy objects.
There are different types of hernias based on their location. The most common types are listed below.
- Epigastric hernia
- Spigelian hernia
- Obturator hernia
Some of the commonly observed symptoms include abdominal pain, bulge in the abdominal area, severe groin pain which increases on coughing or lifting heavy things, burning, gurgling sensation, nausea and vomiting.
Your physician can confirm the presence of hernia by performing physical examination. The size of hernia increases on coughing, bending, lifting, or straining. Rarely ultrasound may be needed to look for hernia, as it is generally poorly reliable for evaluating groin hernias.
Conservative management – the wearing of a truss – is reasonable for those few patients in whom the disadvantages of potentially curative surgery outweigh the advantages.
Surgery is the only curative treatment and is usually performed for hernias that enlarge in size due to increased intra-abdominal pressure causing intestinal obstruction and restricted blood supply which may lead to death of herniating organs.
A hernia repair is usually performed as an inpatient surgery with a one night stay in the hospital. The operation may be performed as an “open” or “keyhole” (laparoscopic) surgery.
Your surgeon will discuss with you which procedure is suitable for the repair prior to you determining how you wish to proceed.
In open hernia repair, an incision is made on the groin (abdomen) and the bulge is pushed back into place. Laparoscopic hernia surgery is a surgical procedure in which a laparoscope (telescope) is inserted into the abdomen through a small incision. The laparoscope is a small fibre-optic viewing instrument made up of a tiny lens, light source and video camera.
This surgery is performed under general or a local anaesthesia and single incision is made on the groin area and hernioplasty or herniorrhaphy is performed.
Laparoscopic or Keyhole surgery: This surgery is performed under general anaesthesia and several small incisions are made around the abdomen. Through one of the incisions, a laparoscope (a small, fibre-optic tube with a tiny camera) is inserted. Through the other incisions, surgical instruments are inserted and hernioplasty and herniorrhaphy is performed.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is put into the abdomen to allow the surgeon vision of the operative field. The gas is evacuated at the end of the procedure.
As common with other surgeries, hernia surgery is also associated with certain complications such as local discomfort and stiffness, infection, damage to nerves and blood vessels, bruising, blood clots, wound irritation and urinary retention.
Inguinal hernia is a condition where a part of the intestine protrudes out of the abdomen through a defect in the abdominal wall. Inguinal hernias affect people of all ages and are more common in men compared to women.
Inguinal hernias are of two types:
- Indirect inguinal hernias – Indirect inguinal hernia often affects premature infants when it is caused because of non-closure of inguinal canal and is a congenital disorder.It is also the most common acquired hernia in both men and women.
- Direct inguinal hernias – Direct inguinal hernia is common in adult males and is caused because of degeneration of tissues in abdominal muscles.
Inguinal hernias cause discomfort and sharp pain which may be worsened with increased activity and relieved on rest. Patients may also experience burning or gurgling sensation at the site of hernia. The pain tends to be worse in the evening than the morning.
Femoral hernia appears as a bulge in the upper thigh, is a loop of intestine, or another part of the abdominal contents, that has been forced out of the abdomen through a channel called the “femoral canal” (a tube-shaped passage at the top of the front of the thigh). It most commonly develops in women due to the wider pelvic region and also in older people.
Femoral hernias may be congenital but usually develop later in life. Certain factors such as chronic constipation, obesity, and stressful urination because of enlarged prostate may increase the risk of hernias. Patients with femoral hernias may have a bulge in upper thigh area and may have symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and discomfort on standing or lifting heavy objects.
Normally, the stomach is completely below the diaphragm. In individuals with hiatus hernia part of the stomach slides through the diaphragm, the muscular sheet that separates the lungs and chest from the abdomen, and protrudes into chest cavity. Hiatal hernia is very common and affects people of all ages.
Hiatal hernias are of two types:
- Sliding hiatal hernia – The top portion of stomach slides up and down through the diaphragm with increased pressure on abdominal cavity
- Fixed Hiatal hernia – The top portion of stomach moves up into the chest cavity and does not slide down into normal position.
Obesity, chronic cough, chronic constipation, smoking, and hereditary factors increases the risk of developing hiatal hernias. Hiatal hernia may not cause any symptoms but patients may experience chest pain, heart burn, belching, and hiccups.
It occurs through a scar of any previous surgical incision made in the abdomen and usually develops after many years of surgery. Incisional hernias are usually small and only the peritoneum or tissue layer lining the abdominal cavity protrudes out. Incisional hernias are more common in obese individuals and in pregnant women. Risk is more in those who had multiple surgeries earlier and those who perform activities that impart more stress of abdomen.
Patients may experience pain and discomfort and there is always a risk of recurrence.
Umbilical hernia is a small bulge around the umbilicus (belly button). An umbilical hernia in an infant is caused by the incomplete closure of the muscles around the Umbilicus. Smaller umbilical hernias often require no treatment and close by the age of 2 however larger umbilical hernias may necessitate urgical intervention. Paraumbilical hernias may also develop later in life, such as during pregnancy. Conditions such as mucopolysaccharide storage diseases, Beckwith Wieldemann syndrome, and Down syndrome may increase the risk of paraumbilical hernias.
The bulge in umbilical hernia will be soft and bulges may appear when the baby cries or sits up.
Recurrent hernias as the name implies recur at the same site of earlier hernia. Recurrence is more common in obese individuals and those who had multiple surgeries earlier. Recurrence is more common with incisional hernias because the risk factors such as obesity may persist and cause recurrence.
Surgery is the best approach for recurrent hernias however the difficulty or complications increase on subsequent repairs. Recurrent hernias can be repaired with open surgery or laparoscopic surgeries. Certain preventive measures such as treating chronic cough before treating hernias, avoiding smoking, avoiding strain on abdomen during bowel movement, and avoiding lifting of heavy objects may help in preventing recurrence.
Mesh & Hernia Repairs
Surgery is the best approach for hernia treatment. Various surgical techniques are used to treat hernias and it is recommended that using ‘tension free’ repair method is beneficial preferably with incisional hernias. Also surgery is recommended for recurrent hernias. In treating larger hernias surgeons use a synthetic material called ‘mesh’ to close the defect or hole. The mesh minimizes the tension at surgical wound and prevents recurrence. Mesh used in surgery also provides support to the weakened abdominal walls. These meshes are available in various sizes and shapes so as to meet the requirements.
Surgeons place this mesh either superficial or deep to the defect in the abdominal wall and it will be held in place with sutures. This mesh provides support for the growth of new tissue and this tissue incorporates the mesh into surrounding area.