If you think you or a loved one has developed a hernia, it’s time to see the doctor. Just so you’re prepared, know that there’s a good chance she’ll recommend surgery.
A hernia is a hole in the muscle or the layer of tissue covering the muscle, known as the fascia. There are a number of different kinds of hernia; they can occur in the upper thigh area, the upper part of the stomach, around the belly button, or in the groin. They can also develop along an incision from surgery. Typically, people experience some pain or bulging in one of those areas, which alerts them that there’s a problem.
The severity of the condition will likely determine the next step. Some people with minor or asymptomatic inguinal (groin) hernias can take a “watchful waiting approach,” but a study published in the British Journal of Surgery in 2011 found that most inguinal hernias eventually require surgery, lending support to the idea that it’s probably better to go ahead and seek surgical repair.
According to Dr. Shirin Towfigh, a surgeon with Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles who specializes in complex hernia repair, surgery is the only treatment for a hernia.
“No herbs, exercises or non-surgical modalities have been shown to cure hernias,” she says.
Without a surgical repair, you may run the risk of complications like incarceration, which occurs when the protruding tissue pokes through and gets stuck, or strangulation, which occurs when the blood supply to the protrusion gets cut off, which can cause tissue death.
Some people are good candidates for a laparoscopic repair, which is less invasive. The recovery process may also be easier, too. “The pain is much less,” notes surgeon Dr. Daniel B. Jones, chief of Minimally Invasive Surgical Services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Can a hernia come back after surgical repair? It is possible. “The risk of hernia recurrence in the groin after original hernia repair ranges from 1 to 5 percent,” Towfigh says.
But you can take steps to minimize the likelihood. Maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke, advises colorectal surgeon Dr. Meagan Costedio of the Cleveland Clinic.
To increase your chances of a good outcome, Towfigh recommends making sure that any potential risk factor for hernia occurrence or reoccurrence have been addressed prior to surgery. For example, if you have asthma, make sure it’s under control. Address any issues with constipation—which causes pressure—and stop smoking, if you haven’t already.
After surgery, you still need to take good care of yourself. Eat a nutritious diet and take the necessary medications to prevent constipation. After a couple of weeks post-surgery, start back on an exercise regimen so you can maintain a healthy weight.