Hernia as a disease has been misunderstood widely in the country as most of the Indian population has heard the word ‘hernia’ but they don’t really understand the depth and breadth of this disease. When our abdominal organs stick out through a defect in our internal organ walls, it is said to be herniated or medically put, “Hernia is defined as the protrusion of omentum or intestine through a defect.”
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Jameel Akhter, general surgeon in Chennai, revealed, “There are a number of causes for a hernia to develop in any individual. Excessive strain on the abdominal and the pelvic region can cause the muscle walls to crack open through which the internal organs may protrude. Some other causes of hernia are: cough – COPD, obesity, constipation, prostatomegaly, smoking, connective tissue disorder, open appendectomy, heavy weight lifting.”
Talking about the symptoms to look out for, he said, “Hernia will start showing symptoms at the early onset so it’s not very difficult for medical professionals to diagnose hernia. If you have a swelling in the groin or abdominal wall you may want to get that checked. Similarly, a dull aching pain in the abdominal region and distended abdomen are also symptoms of hernia.” He cautioned, “Untreated hernia can lead to complications and challenges that we might later find difficult to deal with. Like every other health challenge, hernia too gets bigger and more complicated if left untreated.”
He listed a few of the complications one might have to face if their hernia goes untreated:
1. It can become irreducible – Once a hernia protrudes through a defect, it becomes irreducible and it won’t go back on its own. This stage is known as irreducible but is still not as severe as the later stages of hernia.
2. It can become incarcerated – A hernia is said to be incarcerated when part of the abdomen or intestine gets stuck in the hernia bulges.
3. It can cause obstruction – When hernia gets large enough, it starts obstructing the normal functioning of nearby organs thus leading to many complications.
4. It can strangulate blood supply – Strangulation happens when hernia gets large enough to block the nearby arteries. This is a very serious condition and requires immediate medical attention.
Surgeries are the only viable treatment option for hernia and since even a small hernia is irreducible, surgically removing the hernia becomes the only viable choice for treatment. Hernia is treated through an open, laparoscopic or robotic surgery and for unilateral hernias either an open or laparoscopic approach can be taken.
Dr Jameel Akhter suggested, “For unilateral hernias, open repair can be done under local anaesthesia. For bilateral and recurrent hernias laparoscopic repairs are preferred, which has the advantage of seeing both the sides in the same port placement. There is no significant difference in recurrences in all these approaches that involves placing mesh.”
Lifestyle Changes That Reduce Hernia Risk
Although there are a lot of things that can cause a hernia, the primary causes of hernia include smoking, obesity, chronic cough, and stressful exercise. As per the guidelines of European Hernia Society, the only pragmatic prevention for an inguinal hernia is smoking cessation and possibly not undertaking long-term and heavy physical work.
Dr Jameel Akhter shared some other lifestyle changes that can reduce hernia risk:
1. Maintaining a healthy weight – The first and foremost precaution one should take to stay away from hernia is to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts unnecessary pressure on the body which can result in the breaking down of muscular walls.
2. Reducing muscle strain – Weight lifters, bodybuilders, and other athletes often take their bodies through immense stress which sometimes results in sports hernia. Reducing this muscle strain can significantly reduce the probability of you having sports hernia.
3. Stop smoking – Smokers often have a persistent cough which puts abnormal pressure on the abdomen. Quitting smoking is one sure way to reduce the chances of you getting affected by hernia.
Asserting that hernia calls for immediate medical attention, Dr Jameel Akhter said, “Hernia is not a life-threatening condition but it surely requires medical attention as and when required. Hernia can be easily treated with surgery that has minimal complications and low recovery time (in the case of a laparoscopic or robotic surgery). You should never ignore your hernia and get it treated by qualified doctors as soon as possible. One must remember hernia itself may not cause complications but the after-effects of a worsening hernia can be challenging.”