Dear doctor, is it possible to leave a hernia untreated?

11 July 2017

Q: I have been told I have a hernia and would need surgery which makes me really nervous. I’ve heard some people live with it for years. Is it possible to leave it untreated?

A: You haven't mentioned where your hernia is, but the common places where these can occur are in the groin (femoral and inguinal) and the umbilicus (navel).

A hernia is a weakness in the layers of fibrous tissue and muscle which keep our guts and organs inside the abdomen. An uncomfortable bulging may develop, which is exacerbated by standing and exercise.

Left alone, a hernia will not heal itself and in occasional cases can entrap the bowel which has been freely moving in and out of the bulging lump. Fortunately it is fairly uncommon for bowel to become strangulated in this way but nevertheless it is best to repair hernias to prevent this happening.

These days almost all hernias are repaired using a plastic mesh support. This may be inserted under direct vision (open repair), which can be performed under general anaesthetic or local anaesthetic with sedation. An alternative is laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery where a thin mesh is guided into place within the abdomen under video guidance.

Your surgeon will guide you regarding the advantages of each technique for your own individual hernia. Both repair techniques are performed as day-case procedures and the use of modern mesh support will give you a strong, lasting relief of the problem.

Most patients are able to get back to their daily activities as normal within two weeks. However, if your job requires heavy lifting, your surgeon will be able to advise on a suitable timeframe during your consultation.

Mr Simon Payne is a Consultant General and Vascular Surgeon practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.


The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

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