What is a Hernia?
Hernia is the protrusion of contents of one body cavity to the outside or into another body cavity. Most commonly the term is used to describe the contents of abdominal cavity coming out through natural or acquired weakness in the abdominal wall muscles. It is usually seen or experienced as a balloon like bulge through a weakened area of the abdominal wall. It can allow a loop of the intestines or some other abdominal tissue to protrude out. Usually it becomes more noticeable on standing or walking for long or due to some vigorous physical activity or even straining due to severe coughing, constipation etc.
Other than this bulge a hernia can also cause severe pain and some other potentially serious problems which could require urgent operation.
Both males and females can suffer from this problem at any age, though generally it is thought that it is a problem of the males only. Sometimes even the children have a hernia which could be seen even at birth or a little later as the child grows.
There is no change for the better in a hernia with the passage of time and neither does the problem resolve on its own as the life progresses.
Where can one get a hernia?
The commonest sites where a hernia can be encountered are the groin, belly button and site of an earlier abdominal operation. Though uncommonly but still a hernia can be sometimes seen in the abdominal flanks as well.
What causes a hernia?
The wall of the abdomen has natural areas of potential weakness. Hernias can develop at these or other areas due to heavy strain on the abdominal wall, aging, injury, an old incision or a weakness present from birth. Anyone can develop a hernia at any age. Most hernias in children are present since birth. In adults, a natural weakness or strain from heavy lifting, persistent coughing, constipation or urinary retention can result in a weakness in the abdominal wall predisposing to a hernia becoming manifest.
How does one recognize the need for medical help for managing a hernia?
Whenever one notices an unnatural bulge in the abdominal wall or during a medical examination it is advisable to consult a surgeon. Once a hernia has been diagnosed it should be repaired as soon as possible. There may be a progressive increase in the size of this lump or one may have episodes of pain when one lifts a heavy object, coughs or strains due to constipation or urinary difficulty.
How is a hernia managed?
Surgical management is the only effective treatment for a hernia. Some devices like compression belts though available are not the ideal choices. The repair of a hernia is achieved by bridging the muscular deficiency by suturing or mesh repair. The technique of laparoscopic surgery has been perfected to perform hernia repairs using different kinds of meshes.
What are important pre operative preparations?
One must stop smoking and discontinue any blood thinning medications. Certain routine blood tests, chest x-ray and ECG will also be got done.
What are the post operative precautions?
One has to refrain form undertaking any strenuous physical activities for at least three months after the operation. Cough and constipation also have to be controlled effectively. As mentioned in the surgical literature in a small number of cases there can be a recurrence despite all the precautions.