Inguinal hernia

An inguinal hernia is a bulge in your groin area which can be painful and can sometimes cause life-threatening complications.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is an inguinal hernia?

An inguinal hernia develops when fat, tissue or a loop of bowel pokes through a weakness in your groin muscles.

Inguinal hernias are quite common. They mainly affect men, who are eight times more likely to have an inguinal hernia than women. Inguinal hernias are also more likely when you’re older.

Babies born with a weakness in their abdominal muscles can develop an inguinal hernia in childhood or later in life. This is sometimes referred to as an indirect inguinal hernia.

An inguinal hernia won’t go away on its own but can successfully be repaired with surgery.

How to tell if you have a inguinal hernia

Inguinal hernia symptoms include:

  • A bulge (hernia) in your groin area which is more noticeable when you’re standing up
  • Pain, discomfort or a sensation of heaviness in your groin
  • Painful and/or swollen testicles
  • Hip pain

Occasionally, a hernia can become trapped (incarcerated) and/or the blood supply cut off (strangulated). Incarcerated inguinal hernias and strangulated inguinal hernias require urgent medical treatment.

Symptoms of an incarcerated or strangulated inguinal hernia include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High temperature
  • Sudden (acute), intense pain
  • A change in the colour of your hernia
  • Difficulties passing stools and/or passing wind

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Diagnosis and tests for inguinal hernia

If you notice a lump in your groin area, see your GP. To diagnose an inguinal hernia, your GP will ask about your symptoms, your medical history and examine your stomach and groin. They might ask you to stand for this examination and, to check for changes in any lumps, to cough.

To confirm a diagnosis, your GP may refer you to a consultant or, occasionally, for further tests, such as an ultrasound scan or MRI.

Causes of inguinal hernia

You’re more likely to develop an inguinal hernia if you:

  • Have a family history of inguinal hernias
  • Have a long-term (chronic) cough, possibly as a result of smoking
  • Are affected by constipation – straining when passing stools can cause an inguinal hernia
  • Regularly lift or push heavy loads
  • Have previously had an inguinal hernia or hernia repair surgery – up to one in 10 hernias return after treatment
  • Are pregnant – pregnancy weakens the abdominal muscles

Common treatments for inguinal hernia

If an inguinal hernia isn’t causing you pain or discomfort, your doctor may suggest postponing your inguinal hernia repair surgery.

Inguinal hernia repair is a common surgical procedure. It involves returning the fat, tissue or loop of bowel which created the hernia to your abdomen. During surgery, your surgeon will also strengthen your abdominal muscles with special mesh.

An inguinal hernia can be repaired using open surgery or laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery. Your surgeon will discuss which option is best for you, taking into consideration your inguinal hernia symptoms and your general health.

Following surgery, inguinal hernia recovery is relatively quick. You should be able to return to work after about two weeks or slightly longer if your job is strenuous.