Inguinal Hernia: Should I Have Surgery Now, or Should I Wait?
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.
Inguinal Hernia: Should I Have Surgery Now, or Should I Wait?
Get the facts
- Have surgery now to repair the inguinal hernia, even if you do not have symptoms.
- Take a "wait and see" approach to surgery because the hernia does not bother you much.
This decision aid is not for parents of infants and children who have inguinal hernias. Infants and children always need surgery to repair a hernia because of the increased risk of incarceration and strangulation.
Key points to remember
- Hernias don't go away on their own. Only surgery can repair a hernia.
- Many people are able to delay surgery for months or even years. And some people may never need surgery for a small hernia. If the hernia is small and you don't have any symptoms, or if the symptoms don't bother you much, you and your doctor may simply continue to watch for symptoms to occur.
- Over time, hernias tend to get bigger as the muscle wall of the belly gets weaker and more tissue bulges through.
- Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents a rare but serious problem called strangulation. This occurs when a loop of intestine or a piece of fatty tissue is trapped inside the hernia and is cut off from its blood supply.
- Talk with your doctor before wearing a corset or truss to hold in your hernia. These devices are not recommended for treating hernias and sometimes can do more harm than good.
An inguinal hernia (say "IN-gwuh-nul HER-nee-uh") occurs when tissue pushes through a weak spot in your groin muscle. This causes a bulge in the groin, scrotum, or labia. The bulge may hurt or burn, or it may not hurt at all.
Many doctors recommend surgery because it can prevent a rare but serious problem called strangulation. This occurs when a loop of intestine or a piece of fatty tissue is trapped in a hernia and the blood supply is cut off, which kills the tissue.
Repairing the hernia can also relieve the symptoms of pain and discomfort and make the bulge go away. The hernia won't heal on its own.
If your hernia does not bother you, most likely you can wait to have surgery. Your hernia may get worse, but it may not. Over time, hernias tend to get bigger as the muscle wall of the belly gets weaker and more tissue bulges through.
In some cases small, painless hernias never need repair.
There are two types of hernia repair surgeries:
- Open hernia repair surgery. The hernia is repaired through a cut (incision) in the groin. Open surgery is safe and effective and has been done for many years.
- Laparoscopic hernia repair. This is another method for hernia repair in adults. A surgeon inserts a thin, lighted scope through a small incision in the belly. Surgical tools to repair the hernia are inserted through other small incisions in the belly. Laparoscopic hernia surgery may have some advantages over open surgery in certain cases.
It can take up to 4 weeks after open hernia surgery before you can begin normal strenuous activities. If you have laparoscopic surgery, you may recover sooner.
You and your doctor may want to put off surgery if:
- The hernia is small and you don't have any symptoms, or if the symptoms don't bother you much.
- The hernia can be pushed back into the belly or it goes away when you lie down. (If it cannot be pushed back, surgery must be done sooner.)
It may also be a good idea to put off surgery if:
- You are taking medicines such as blood thinners that cannot be stopped for surgery.
- You have other health problems that make surgery dangerous.
- You have a skin infection that could also infect the material used to repair the hernia.
- Your doctor has suggested that wearing supports (trusses or corsets) could help.
Talk with your doctor before wearing a corset or truss for a hernia. These devices are not recommended for treating hernias and sometimes can do more harm than good. There may be certain cases when your doctor thinks a truss would work, but these are rare.
Compare your options
What is usually involved?
What are the benefits?
What are the risks and side effects?
- You may be asleep during the operation. Or the doctor may keep you awake and simply numb the area around your groin.
- You don't need to stay overnight in the hospital.
- Surgery prevents the rare but serious problem called strangulation.
- It relieves any swelling or feeling of heaviness, tugging, or burning in the area of the hernia.
- The hernia could come back.
- Risks of surgery include:
- A bad reaction to the anesthesia.
- Infection and bleeding.
- Nerve damage, numb skin, or a loss of blood supply to the scrotum or testicles that could cause the testicles to waste away. But these are rare.
- Damage to the cord that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis. This could affect your ability to father children.
- Damage to the artery or vein in the thigh.
- Damage to the intestines or bladder for certain types of hernias or if the surgery is a laparoscopic repair.
- You will get regular checkups to watch for changes.
- You don't have the risks of surgery.
- A rare but serious problem called strangulation could occur.
Personal stories about having surgery for inguinal hernia
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
I work on a loading dock and often have to lift heavy boxes for my job. One day I noticed a tender bulge in my groin that became more and more painful on the job. My doctor said I had an inguinal hernia. I decided to have surgery to repair it, because I just couldn't work anymore with the hernia.
Boyce, age 45
My inguinal hernia does not bother me much. So I could live with it. But it makes a big bulge, and I don't like the way it looks. So I decided to have surgery to have it repaired and make the bulge go away.
Seaton, age 42
Over the last few years I had gotten overweight. So I went on a crash diet to lose the extra weight fast. Afterward I got a cold and coughed a lot. Later I noticed a small bulge in my groin area that hadn't been there before. My doctor said it was an inguinal hernia and showed me how to push it back into my belly. Although I could have surgery to repair it, I decided to wait to see if it gets worse.
LaMar, age 57
I have a hernia and I am pregnant. It bothers me some, but I have decided to wait until after my baby is born to have the hernia repaired. I just think there is too great a chance of harm to my baby from the anesthesia and surgery to have the hernia repaired before delivery.
Brie, age 31
What matters most to you?
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to have surgery now
Reasons to wait
My hernia is keeping me from doing daily activities or from returning to work.
My hernia doesn't bother me at all.
I want to have the hernia repaired while my insurance or worker's compensation will help cover the costs.
I am worried about being able to afford the operation.
I will be traveling to an area where health care may not be available, so I want to take care of this now.
I have no plans to travel to places where health care may not be available.
Surgery would be convenient for me at this time.
This is not a good time for me to have surgery.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Where are you leaning now?
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Having surgery now
Waiting to have surgery
What else do you need to make your decision?
Check the facts
One reason for me to have surgery for my inguinal hernia is to prevent a rare but serious problem called strangulation.
- TrueYou're right. Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents strangulation, which happens when a piece of tissue gets trapped inside the hernia and is cut off from its blood supply.
- FalseSorry, that's wrong. Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents strangulation, which happens when a piece of tissue gets trapped inside the hernia and is cut off from its blood supply.
- I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents a problem called strangulation.
I need surgery even though my hernia is small and doesn't bother me.
- TrueNo, that's wrong. If your hernia is small and your symptoms don't bother you, you can delay surgery. Some people never need surgery.
- FalseYou're right. If your hernia is small and your symptoms don't bother you, you can delay surgery. Some people never need surgery.
- I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." If your hernia is small and your symptoms don't bother you, you can delay surgery. Some people never need surgery.
I can wait for my hernia to go away on its own.
- TrueSorry, that's wrong. An inguinal hernia won't go away on its own. Only surgery can repair it.
- FalseYou're right. An inguinal hernia won't go away on its own. Only surgery can repair it.
- I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." An inguinal hernia won't go away on its own. Only surgery can repair it.
Decide what's next
Do you understand the options available to you?
Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kenneth Bark, MD - Surgery, Colon and Rectal|