Understanding Your Options for Hernia Repair

Hernias are common, with an estimated 5 million Americans having a hernia. Tahir Jamil, MD, a board-certified general surgeon and co-director of ProMedica’s Comprehensive Hernia Program, answers common questions about hernias and hernia repair.

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a defect, opening or tear in the abdominal wall muscles. They can occur anywhere in the abdominal cavity themselves. Hernias we commonly treat include inguinal hernia, ventral hernias, Spigelian hernias, incisional hernias, recurrent hernias, hernia incarceration/strangulation, diaphragmatic hernias and rectus diastasis.

There are many different reasons why people have hernias. Hernias are common in men and women of all ages. Hernias usually occur either because of a natural weakness in the abdominal wall or from excessive strain on the abdominal wall, such as the strain from heavy lifting, substantial weight gain, persistent coughing, or difficulty with bowel movements or urination. Hernias can commonly occur after prior abdominal surgery or from re-occurrences from prior repairs.

How do I know if I have a hernia?

Not all hernias cause symptoms and require treatment. However, if you have a hernia, you may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • A noticeable protrusion in the groin area or abdomen.
  • Feeling pain while lifting.
  • A dull aching sensation.
  • A vague feeling of fullness.

Are hernias dangerous?

Abdominal hernias are common and not necessarily dangerous. But, a hernia doesn’t usually get better on its own. In rare circumstances, it can lead to life-threatening complications. Consequently, surgery is usually recommended for a hernia that’s painful or becoming larger.

Even though your hernia isn’t causing any symptoms, it’s important that you have it regularly evaluated by your doctor. He or she will want to keep an eye on it and reassess the situation ─ even if it becomes just slightly uncomfortable. Some people wear a supportive belt or undergarment to hold the hernia in, but this isn’t a long-term solution.

How are hernias treated?

Treatments we offer with ProMedica’s Comprehensive Hernia Program include:

  • Minimally invasive robotic surgery.
  • Laparoscopic surgery.
  • Open surgical hernia repair.

Robotic surgery has allowed us to push the envelope of simple and complex hernia repairs. Robotic surgery allows us to treat hernias with smaller incisions, which can translate into people having less pain and a shorter length of stay in the hospital. On average, most hernia repairs undertaken with ProMedica’s Comprehensive Hernia program stay less than a day in the hospital after a hernia repair.

What happens after someone has hernia surgery?

Patients who are eligible for minimally invasive robotic surgery usually have less pain and a faster return to normal activity. Our patients can experience less discomfort than with traditional approaches. Most of our patients have a 10-pound weight restriction for about two weeks, but after that, the person can slowly resume normal activity.

Generally, patients undergoing minimally invasive robotic hernia surgery will require less narcotic pain medications when compared with standard techniques. Because of the dedication and commitment to robotic hernia surgery, surgeons with ProMedica’s Comprehensive Hernia Program have a very low complication rate when compared with traditional surgery. Complications from robotic surgery are in the single digits, compared to the 20% complication rate of open surgery for large hernias.

Is it OK to ignore a hernia that isn’t causing pain?

If you have a hernia, I recommend talking with your primary care physician. Sometimes, a hernia can be more complicated than they seem. Individuals need expertise for this medical problem and it should not be taken lightly.