What is inguinal hernia?
An inguinal hernia occurs when tissue, such as part of the intestine, protrudes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles. The resulting bulge can be painful, especially when you cough, bend over or lift a heavy object.
An inguinal hernia isn’t necessarily dangerous. It doesn’t improve on its own, however, and can lead to life-threatening complications. Your doctor is likely to recommend surgery to fix an inguinal hernia that’s painful or enlarging. Inguinal hernia repair is a common surgical procedure.
How common is inguinal hernia?
Hernias are more common in men. A woman may get a hernia while she is pregnant because of the pressure on her belly wall. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of inguinal hernia?
The common symptoms of inguinal hernia are:
- A bulge in the area on either side of your pubic bone, which becomes more obvious when you’re upright, especially if you cough or strain
- A burning or aching sensation at the bulge
- Pain or discomfort in your groin, especially when bending over, coughing or lifting
- A heavy or dragging sensation in your groin
- Weakness or pressure in your groin
- Occasionally, pain and swelling around the testicles when the protruding intestine descends into the scrotum
You should be able to gently push the hernia back into your abdomen when you’re lying down. If not, applying an ice pack to the area may reduce the swelling enough so that the hernia slides in easily. Lying with your pelvis higher than your head also may help.
If you aren’t able to push the hernia in, the contents of the hernia can be trapped (incarcerated) in the abdominal wall. An incarcerated hernia can become strangulated, which cuts off the blood flow to the tissue that’s trapped. A strangulated hernia can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated.
Signs and symptoms of a strangulated hernia include:
- Nausea, vomiting or both
- Sudden pain that quickly intensifies
- A hernia bulge that turns red, purple or dark
- Inability to move your bowels or pass gas
If any of these signs or symptoms occurs, call your doctor right away.
Signs and symptoms in children
Inguinal hernias in newborns and children result from a weakness in the abdominal wall that’s present at birth. Sometimes the hernia will be visible only when an infant is crying, coughing or straining during a bowel movement. He or she might be irritable and have less appetite than usual.
In an older child, a hernia is likely to be more apparent when the child coughs, strains during a bowel movement or stands for a long period.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
See your doctor if you have a painful or noticeable bulge in your groin on either side of your pubic bone. The bulge is likely to be more noticeable when you’re standing, and you usually can feel it if you put your hand directly over the affected area. Seek immediate medical care if a hernia bulge turns red, purple or dark.
What causes inguinal hernia?
Some inguinal hernias have no apparent cause. Others might occur as a result of:
- Increased pressure within the abdomen
- A pre-existing weak spot in the abdominal wall
- A combination of increased pressure within the abdomen and a pre-existing weak spot in the abdominal wall
- Straining during bowel movements or urination
- Strenuous activity
- Chronic coughing or sneezing
In many people, the abdominal wall weakness that leads to an inguinal hernia occurs at birth when the abdominal lining (peritoneum) doesn’t close properly. Other inguinal hernias develop later in life when muscles weaken or deteriorate due to aging, strenuous physical activity or coughing that accompanies smoking.
Weaknesses can also occur in the abdominal wall later in life, especially after an injury or abdominal surgery.
In men, the weak spot usually occurs in the inguinal canal, where the spermatic cord enters the scrotum. In women, the inguinal canal carries a ligament that helps hold the uterus in place, and hernias sometimes occur where connective tissue from the uterus attaches to tissue surrounding the pubic bone.
What increases my risk for inguinal hernia?
There are many risk factors for inguinal hernia, such as:
- Being male. Men are eight times more likely to develop an inguinal hernia than are women.
- Being older. Muscles weaken as you age.
- Being white.
- Family history. You have a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, who has the condition.
- Chronic cough, such as from smoking.
- Chronic constipation. Constipation causes straining during bowel movements.
- Being pregnant can weaken the abdominal muscles and cause increased pressure inside your abdomen.
- Premature birth and low birth weight.
- Previous inguinal hernia or hernia repair. Even if your previous hernia occurred in childhood, you’re at higher risk of developing another inguinal hernia.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is inguinal hernia diagnosed?
A doctor can easily push these hernias back into your abdomen when you are lying down. However, if this is unsuccessful, you may have a strangulated inguinal hernia. Your doctor can make this determination during a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor will ask you to cough while standing so they can check the hernia when it’s at its largest.
How is inguinal hernia treated?
Surgery is the primary treatment for inguinal hernias. It’s a very common operation and a highly successful procedure when done by a well-trained surgeon. Your doctor will recommend either herniorrhaphy (“open” repair) or laparoscopic surgery (done through a small scope).
Open repair involves making an incision into the groin and returning the abdominal tissues to the abdomen and repairing the abdominal wall defect. Laparoscopy uses several short incisions rather than a single, longer incision. This surgery may be preferable if you want a shorter recovery time.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage inguinal hernia?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you avoid inguinal hernia:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor about the best exercise and diet plan for you.
- Emphasize high-fiber foods. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain fiber that can help prevent constipation and straining.
- Lift heavy objects carefully or avoid heavy lifting. If you must lift something heavy, always bend from your knees — not your waist.
- Stop smoking. Besides its role in many serious diseases, smoking often causes a chronic cough that can lead to or aggravate an inguinal hernia.
- Don’t rely on a truss. Wearing a supportive garment designed to keep hernias in place (hernia truss) doesn’t correct the problem or help prevent complications. Your doctor might recommend a hernia truss for a short time before surgery to help you feel more comfortable, but the truss isn’t a replacement for surgery.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: November 20, 2017 | Last Modified: December 9, 2019
Inguinal hernia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/inguinal-hernia/symptoms-causes/syc-20351547. Accessed November 20, 2017.
Inguinal Hernia. https://www.healthline.com/health/inguinal-hernia#overview1. Accessed November 20, 2017.