Why get a hernia repaired?
A hernia occurs when part of an internal organ comes through a weak area of muscle.
For example, a hernia in your abdomen might develop as a hole in the outer wall of the abdominal wall, a tough layer known as fascia, and part of the inside of your abdomen might start to poke through, creating a hernial sac.
Not all hernias need to be repaired. The decision on whether to operate, in part, would depend on a person's symptoms.
If a person with a hernia notices a bulge that they can't explain or they're in pain because of the hernia, then a doctor might recommend repair. In more extreme cases, a piece of intestine can become stuck in the hernia, blocking a person's bowels.
Sometimes the cause of a hernia isn't known. Hernias are commonly found in the abdomen. Inguinal hernias, found in the groin, also are common.
People who suffer from acid reflux might be familiar with hiatal hernias, a condition where part of a person's stomach sticks into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm.
What happens when a hernia is repaired?
How a hernia is repaired depends on the type and size of the hernia and also whether you've had previous repairs.
For example, your doctor might recommend a laparoscopic hernia repair. If this is the case, a medical team will repair your hernia by making a few cuts and then placing ports, which look similar to large golf tees, into your body. They will place medical tools and possibly some mesh through these ports to repair your hernia. The mesh used is usually either made of a synthetic material or animal or human skin. If skin mesh is used, your body usually will replace it with new tissue.
Minor hernia surgery usually takes no longer than 45 minutes. Surgery to repair larger hernias, such as those found in the abdomen, could take up to six hours, depending on the severity of the hernia.
Does it hurt?
The amount of pain you feel after surgery will depend, again, on the size and severity of the hernia. With any surgery, there's some soreness involved.
If it's a small hernia and a surgeon can operate through your belly button, then you probably won't experience pain lasting longer than a few days.
For people with larger hernias, their repair might require a few days in the hospital and IV pain medication after the surgery.
What are the risk factors?
With any surgery, there's a risk of infection and bleeding. With groin hernia repair, there's a risk of long-term chronic pain. Some doctors say doing that procedure laparoscopically decreases the risk.
Depending on a surgeon's experience, you could have an increased risk of recurrence if the procedure is done through a laparoscopic repair.
There is also some risk to leaving the hernia alone. If the hernia is growing or causing you pain, it is best to talk with your doctor and see what's recommended.
When you're considering any surgery, you should ask your doctor any questions you might have. Also, it's important to research a procedure to be able to ask any and all questions you might have.
What's the recovery time?
The time it takes to recover will depend on how extensive the surgery was. You might be placed on some lifting restrictions, depending on where the repair was made.
If you have a large hernia and require abdominal surgery, you might be in the hospital for up to five days and be limited on your activity.
What's the follow-up?
Your doctor likely will want to see you at least once after the surgery. If your doctor placed a drain inside during surgery, he or she will want to take that out about a week later. You should talk with your doctor about the risk of reoccurrence in regards to your specific symptoms and type of hernia.
Source: Dr. Daniel Isbell, a general surgeon of Norman Regional Health System; The National Institutes of Health; The Mayo Clinic.