The Stitch

Understanding inguinal hernias: causes, symptoms and treatment

A pair of doctors speaking a patient while showing information on a chart.

Inguinal hernias are a common medical condition affecting millions of people worldwide. They occur when tissue, such as intestinal tissue, protrudes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles, resulting in a noticeable bulge in the groin or scrotum area. Despite being prevalent, inguinal hernias can cause discomfort and complications if left untreated.

Facts and statistics

  • Prevalence: Inguinal hernias account for about 75% of all abdominal wall hernias. They are more common in men than women, with the lifetime risk for men being about 27% and for women 3%.
  • Causes: The primary cause of inguinal hernias is weakened abdominal muscles. Factors such as aging, chronic coughing, heavy lifting, obesity and pregnancy can contribute to muscle weakness, increasing the risk of herniation.
  • Symptoms: Common symptoms of inguinal hernias include a visible bulge in the groin or scrotum, discomfort or pain during physical activity and a feeling of heaviness or pressure in the groin area. In some cases, hernias may cause more serious symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting or difficulty passing stool, which require immediate evaluation.
  • Complications: If left untreated, some inguinal hernias could lead to severe complications such as bowel obstruction or strangulation, where blood flow to the herniated tissue is cut off. This complication requires immediate medical attention and may need emergency surgery.

Insights from Dr. Loor

Dr. Michele Loor, Baylor Medicine hernia surgeon, emphasizes the importance of early detection and prompt evaluation to discuss treatment options for inguinal hernias.  “Inguinal hernias are not just a physical inconvenience; they can significantly impact a person’s quality of life if left untreated,” she said. “It’s crucial for individuals to be aware of the symptoms and seek medical attention promptly.”

During appointments, Loor educates patients on their treatment options, including conservative management, open repair (via incision in the groin at the site of the hernia), as well as laparoscopic or robotic hernia repair. “With modern surgical techniques, patients can undergo hernia repair with minimal disruption to their daily lives,” Loor said.

If you suspect you may have a hernia, contact our dedicated specialists at the Baylor Medicine Hernia Center. Call (713) 798-6363 to schedule a consultation with our lead Hernia Center navigator and physician assistant, Heather West, to take the first step toward effective treatment and relief.

By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery.

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