Hernia Complications and How to Deal With Them
Hernia Obstruction and Strangulation
Except in the case of umbilical hernias — which are present at birth and usually disappear by age 3 or 4 — hernias don’t go away on their own.
If left untreated, it’s common for a hernia to get bigger and more painful. And the longer you have a hernia, the greater your risk of developing complications.
There are two main complications that can develop in untreated hernias: obstruction (also known as incarceration) and strangulation. (1)
A hernia becomes obstructed when part of your intestine gets stuck in the muscle layer it’s pushing through.
For inguinal hernias, the section of intestine gets trapped in an area of muscle called the inguinal canal.
Symptoms of an obstructed hernia may include:
- Abdominal pain
- A painful lump in your groin area
An obstructed hernia, if left untreated, can develop into a strangulated hernia. (1,3)
A hernia becomes strangulated when blood flow to the obstructed (trapped) section of your intestine or other tissue is cut off.
This condition can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated promptly. It requires emergency surgery within a matter of hours to prevent death of the trapped tissue. (1)
Symptoms of a strangulated hernia may include:
- Sudden abdominal or groin pain that gets worse
- Bulge under the skin that turns red, purple, or dark
- Bulge that grows quickly or hardens
- Inability to pass stool or gas, despite the urge (3,4,5)
If you experience symptoms of a strangulated hernia, it’s crucial to call your doctor right away. You can also call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. (4)
When you arrive at your doctor’s office or at the emergency department with these symptoms, your doctor will give you a physical exam and may order imaging and blood tests.
Imaging tests can confirm that you indeed have a strangulated hernia, while blood tests can check for any infection that may have developed as a result. (6)
To repair a strangulated hernia, your surgeon will relieve pressure on the trapped tissue and evaluate how damaged it is.
If tissue death or severe damage has occurred, it may be necessary to remove the previously trapped tissue — which often means removing part of your intestine.
Video: Repairing a Hernia with Surgery
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