Urgent care centers diagnose a good number of hernias. Let’s explore the world of hernias!

What are hernias?

The hernias referred to in this Medical Minute are groin, or inguinal hernias,. More commonly found in men, an inguinal hernia occurs when part of the small intestine protrudes through a tear or weakness in your groin (the area between your abdomen and your thigh). Anybody can get an inguinal hernia, but it is more common among males.

Hernias form as a bulge accompanied by pain, in their groin. Men have an approximate 27% lifetime risk of having hernia at some point in their life, where as women have a much lower incidence- only 3% of women will experience a hernia at some point in their life. Other types of hernias, such as abdominal hiatal hernias are also common, but groin hernias tend to outnumber abdominal hernias by about 3 to 1.

What causes a hernia?

Inguinal hernia can be diagnosed by physical exam. Their cause is not always known, but hernias could be the result of weak spots in the abdominal wall. Weaknesses can be due to congenital defects (present at birth) or formed later in life. Some risk factors for inguinal hernia include:

  • fluid or pressure in the abdomen
  • heavy lifting
  • straining during urination or bowel movements
  • obesity
  • chronic cough
  • pregnancy

Hernias often form in people with weakened abdominal muscles or in those who do a lot of heavy lifting or straining, which is why we see it quite often in young men.  Without getting into too much physiology, men have testicles and scrotum, and those structures descend through the inguinal canal. This canal is much larger in men than in women and that’s part of the reason men tend to be more susceptible to hernias than women.

Symptoms of hernia

Symptoms of inguinal hernia include a bulge in the groin area and pain, pressure, or aching at the bulge—especially when lifting, bending, or coughing. These symptoms usually subside during rest periods. Men may also have swelling around the testicles.

Screening and diagnosis of hernias

If you are having abdominal pain or pelvic bulge and pain, you want to see physician, and he or she will do an exam. They will use their finger, and they will see if you have a bulge in your scrotum or on your groin and they’ll see if its reducible or not. If the exam doesn’t give them the answer, they can perform an ultrasound, a very, inexpensive test that can tell you the same day whether a hernia is present.

What to do if you think you have a hernia

Most of the time hernias don’t cause problems. People can have them their entire life.  When they do cause pain though that’s a problem, and a concern that complications may have arisen. Most common hernias are what we call reducible; you can take your finger or you can lie down in bed and due to the effects of gravity, the bulge in the groin will actually disappear, which means the intestinal contents actually go back into the abdominal cavity or to the correct location. If it’s not reducible by lying down or using a finger or having a physician trying to reduce it, then there are concerns about things like strangulation, or incarceration occurring.  Without getting into details of what those are, if those concerns are there, then you need to see a surgeon, and there may be a need for surgery.

Treating a hernia

As I stated before, hernias are actually something that you can watch for years without being treated. If however, it is causing pain, we generally refer folks to a surgeon who can do a very simple laparoscopic surgery.

If you suspect a hernia, but have not been diagnosed, you should see your doctor, and of course, we are happy to see you here at AFC Urgent Care