More than a million people have hernia surgery each year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s one of the most common types of surgeries.

But does every hernia require surgery? How do you know if you need surgery? And if you do, which type of surgery is best for you?

We’ll guide you through all the questions, but let’s talk first about how to know if you have a hernia.

What Is a Hernia?

A hernia occurs when tissue pushes through a defect in the muscle wall. It causes a bulge, which can feel like a soft lump. This usually happens in the belly, groin, or top of the thigh.

Hernias can be painful, especially when you lift something heavy. Not all are painful but do present the potential risk for needing emergency surgery. You may also feel your hernia if you cough or bend over.

Hernias are very common. In the U.S., about 10% of people will develop a hernia at some point in their life.

Hernias can form for different reasons and in different spots. The ones we see most are:

  • Epigastric hernias, which take place in the middle of the belly. They’re usually smaller, but you can have more than one.
  • Femoral hernias, which happen near the top of the inner thigh when tissue pokes through your groin muscles. They’re more common in women (but still a rarer type of hernia).
  • Incisional hernias, which form along an incision in the belly. They can happen months after surgery or even years.
  • Inguinal hernias, which occur when tissue pushes through a weak spot in the groin area. They’re the most common hernia and usually happen in men.
  • Umbilical hernias, which happen when tissue pushes through a weak spot in your belly. They cause a bulge near your belly button.

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What Are the Different Types of Hernia Surgery?

Surgeons have made advancements in hernia surgery over the past several years. UPMC surgeons always use the least invasive techniques they can for your type of hernia.

There are three main types of surgery but there are multiple factors that will help your surgeon determine which type is best for you.

Open surgery for hernia

This is what you might think of as “traditional” surgery.

The surgeon makes one long cut in your groin or abdomen. Then, they put the tissue or organ back where it was and stitch the tissue together again. Sometimes they use surgical mesh to secure it.

If you have a large hernia, you might need open surgery.

Laparoscopic surgery for hernia

Laparoscopic surgery involves making several tiny incisions in the abdomen. The surgeon uses small instruments to push the tissue or organ back into place and stitch it.

Laparoscopic is less invasive because the cuts are smaller. But some hernias are too large for this technique.

Robotic surgery for hernia

Robotic surgery also uses a laparoscopic approach and requires very small incisions, but it’s even more precise. The surgeon uses special tools to perform the hernia repair.

The robotic surgery can sometimes be less painful, but recovery is typically the same. To offer robotic surgery, a surgeon needs special training in using the robot.

How Do I Know if I Need Hernia Surgery?

Most hernias need surgery eventually.

However, you may not need hernia surgery right away. If you’re not feeling any symptoms, your doctor may suggest “watchful waiting.” This means monitoring the hernia to see if it gets worse or starts to cause problems.

Your doctor may also want you to make lifestyle changes before surgery. For example, if you smoke, there are more risks for surgery. So your doctor may suggest you stop smoking.

Discomfort is one of the main symptoms that drives people to want the hernia repaired. Hernia pain can make working, going to school, and exercising more difficult.

Depending on the type of hernia, your pain may feel sharp or burning. You may also have swelling.

Even if you aren’t having pain or other symptoms, you might still need hernia surgery. Most hernias don’t go away on their own. And hernias that grow too large can become harder to repair.

Untreated hernias can also lead to other complications. When they become stuck, a strangulated hernia can occur. This is an emergency situation requiring immediate treatment.

What Are the Risks and Benefits of Hernia Surgery?

The biggest benefit of surgery is that it fixes the defect in the abdominal wall, prevents further risks for emergency surgery, and gets rid of the hernia pain. You can get back to doing what you enjoy without worrying about the hernia worsening.

As with all surgery, there are risks. The main risks of hernia surgery are:

  • Hernia site issues, like the accumulation of fluid where the hernia was, also called a seroma.
  • Incision issues, such as bruising, infection, or bleeding.
  • Urinary issues, like trouble urinating if the hernia was in your groin.

Your care team can help you manage these risks.

Anesthesia can also pose some risk, but your doctor and anesthesiologist will discuss the type of anesthesia that is best for you.

There’s also a chance of hernia recurrence. Your doctor will discuss what you can do to prevent that.

What Is Hernia Surgery Recovery Like?

If you’ve had a large hernia surgery, you might need to stay overnight (or longer) in the hospital. But many hernia surgeries are outpatient surgeries, and you go home the same day.

Your recovery will depend on how healthy you were before surgery and the type of surgery you had.

Following surgery, you can take several precautions. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions and tell you when you can resume activities like driving and exercising. If your job isn’t physically demanding, you might safely go back to work within a few days.

It can feel daunting to think about having any kind of surgery, but hernia surgeries generally have excellent outcomes.

To learn more about hernia surgery at UPMC, visit the General Surgery at UPMC website.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Surgical Mesh Used for Hernia Repair. Link.

American College of Surgeons. New Approaches, Trends are Emerging in Hernia Repair. Link.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.