Hernia operations: what’s involved and what are the risks?

27 September 2017

On average 120,000 hernia operations are performed in the UK each year, we ask what’s involved and what are the risks?

A hernia is a small lump that occurs when some of the contents of the abdomen (such as part of the intestine) push through a weakness in the abdominal wall. Hernias can occur for various reasons, typically during sports activities or when performing manual tasks such as lifting and stretching – following which you may experience a sharp pain or notice the appearance of a swelling.

In time, the hernia might become bigger as the gap in the muscle or ligament tissue becomes larger. Leaving your hernia untreated may cause it to become larger and uncomfortable and therefore a hernia operation may be necessary not only to alleviate symptoms but more importantly to prevent complications developing.

What is a hernia operation?

The type of surgery you receive will depend on the type of hernia you have. There are two types of surgical technique to correct a hernia:

Laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery involves three small cuts (0.5 to 1cm long) on your abdomen whilst under a general anaesthetic (with you asleep). The surgeon then inserts a telescopic camera just below the tummy button to view the hernia on a video monitor. The hernia is then repaired using specially designed surgical instruments passed through the two other cuts. A strong synthetic mesh is attached to the inside of the abdominal wall to re-inforce the ‘hole’ thereby repairing the hernia.

Open surgery requires a single cut (5 to 10cm long) to the skin over the hernia. Under a local or general anaesthetic the ‘bulge’ is pushed back into place and your surgeon stitches a synthetic mesh over the weak spot, similar to laparoscopic surgery. The cut skin is then closed with dissolvable stitches.

Both laparoscopic and open surgery take on average 20 to 40 minutes in theatre and are performed as a day case procedure meaning you could go home on the same day.

When asked about the pros and cons of an open or laparoscopic repair, Mr Wemyss-Holden comments: “Although I perform both open and laparoscopic hernia repairs, I usually advise the laparoscopic operation in the majority of cases as the recovery time is reduced with most patients returning to work after about ten days rather than six to eight weeks after an open operation. The advantage of an open repair however is that it can be performed under local anaesthetic which avoids the need for a general anaesthetic.”

What are the risks?

Hernia repair is a commonly performed and generally safe operation. Your surgeon will discuss the risks and possible complications during a one-to-one consultation prior to any surgery being performed. Some of the complications associated with a hernia repair may include:

  • a build up of blood or fluid in the space left by the hernia, this will usually get better without treatment
  • pain or numbness caused by damage to the nerve, stitches trapping a nerve, mesh applied too tightly or scar tissue forming (this is more likely during open surgery)
  • the wound becoming infected requiring antibiotic treatment
  • there is about a one in 200 chance of the hernia recurring.

Mr Wemyss-Holden concludes “There have been major advances in hernia surgery over the course of the last ten to 15 years including the introduction of new meshes and the development of the laparoscopic repair. The operation can now be tailored to patients’ individual requirements and recovery times after surgery are generally much reduced. Your surgeon will discuss all of this with you during your consultation in order for you to make an informed decision about surgery”.

For further information or to make a private appointment please contact one of the team on 01603 255 614. Further details regarding consultant general surgeon Mr Simon Weymss-Holden can be found on his consultant profile at www.spirenorwich.com.

All surgery carries an element of risk and the content of this page is provided for general information only.  It should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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