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What happens to an untreated hernia?

By Salt Lake Regional Medical Center  |  Posted Apr 6th, 2017 @ 9:00pm


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Surgeons repair more than 600,000 hernias each year in the United States, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. That makes it one of the most common general surgical procedures performed in the country.

If you let a hernia go untreated, it could cause major problems in the future. Not all hernias cause pain, though, so it's important to get checked regularly and know the symptoms.

What is a hernia?

In short, a hernia happens when an organ breaks through the wall that holds it in place. In most cases, it's the abdominal wall.

There are several different types of hernias, but the most common is the inguinal hernia. This happens when an abdominal organ protrudes into the inguinal canal, a passage that contains the spermatic cords in men and the round ligament of the uterus in women. According to the AAFP study, men are nine times more likely to get an inguinal hernia than women.

You can typically spot or feel a hernia as a bulge in the groin or abdominal area. Depending on the severity of a hernia, it may be largely pain-free even if you can see it. Letting a hernia go untreated because it's painless, however, can cause more problems in the long run.

Complications with an untreated hernia

Putting off a hernia repair may sound like a good idea, as long as it isn't hurting you, but doing so can cause one or more of the following:

  • Bowel obstruction, which can result in severe abdominal pain
  • Strangulation of the organ, in which it loses its blood supply and can become gangrenous
  • Inflammation of the organ
  • Hydrocele, or an accumulation of fluid, around the herniated area
  • Internal bleeding
  • Incarceration, in which the organ cannot be pushed back into place without a lot of external effort. This increases the chances of the other complications listed

How to spot a painless hernia

To avoid the major complications that can result from a pain-free hernia, it's important to have a preventive mindset. Duke Health recommends getting a physical every one to three years, depending on your age and health.

If you see or feel the bulge of a potential hernia, have a physician check you as soon as possible. The doctor can then counsel you on how you should move forward.

Test your knowledge

To assess your understanding of hernias and their treatment, answer the following questions:

(In the app and can't see the quiz? Click here.)

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