July 24, 2007
What is a Hernia
Joanmarie Pellegrini, MD
What is a hernia? A hernia simply means there is a hole in something. Usually when we refer to a hernia we are referring to a hole in the fascia lining the abdomen. The fascia is the strong, sinewy layer that holds the abdominal contents inside the abdomen. The most common places to find a hold in this lining is around the belly button, in the groins, or associated with a scar from surgery.
Can you take a hernia out? Because a hernia is a hole, you cannot remove it. Surgeons repair hernias by sewing them closed or by patching them.
Is a hernia dangerous? It can be. Sometimes bowel can become stuck inside the hole and the fit can be so tight that the blood supply is cut off to the bowel. This would require emergency surgery. However, this does not happen very often. In fact, sometimes a surgeon will not recommend surgery until the hernia develops problems.
Am I born with a hernia or do I do something to cause it? There are some hernias that some people are born with. We also believe that some people are not born with the hernia but are genetically predisposed to develop a hernia. Very frequent heavy lifting, constipation, a chronic cough, and a difficult time peeing are thought to make someone more prone to hernias. Also, smoking is thought to make it more likely to get a hernia. Surgeons know that smoking makes repairing a hernia very difficult. Smokers tend to have their hernias come back after surgery. We also believe steroid use is bad for people who will need hernia surgery.
How do surgeons repair hernias? Depending on the nature of the hernia, the surgeon may decide to simply sew the hole shut or to use a patch. For most hernias, surgeons believe that using a patch is more likely to prevent the hernia from coming back. There are several types of patches: Gore-Tex and polypropylene look like plastic and stay in the body forever. The “biologic” meshes are from pig tissue or human skin. They eventually become absorbed after the they have helped the body to close up the hole. The permanent meshes are vastly more popular.
http://www.emedicinehealth.com/hernia/article_em.htm is an excellent website with much more information.