Hernia Surgery: Elective or Emergent: December 14, 2011

An estimated 5 million Americans have one. About 3% of our population will get one, the bulging medical condition known as a hernia.

“A hernia is essentially a defect or a hole in the abdominal wall that allows contents from inside the abdomen to push through the abdominal wall and usually present with a bulge or a mass in the tissue between the skin and the muscle,” says Dr. Darren Miter, a laparoscopic surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System.

The classic presentation is when someone is doing heavy lifting or straining and feels a sudden tearing sensation in the groin, the belly button or at the site of a surgical scar. And then they develop the telltale bulge.

In the past, men would often resort to wearing a truss, in the hopes that it would push everything back in place. That hasn’t proved successful. When hernias first develop, they’re commonly treatable.

“They’re what we call reducible where there’s a hole and the abdominal contents slide in and out of that hernia freely. All we need to do is push whatever is pushing out of the abdomen back in and usually we reinforce the area with a piece of mesh or graft to make that area stronger,” says Dr. Miter.

In cases like that, the procedure can be performed as elective surgery. Other times, the hernia requires emergent surgery.

“Sometimes something can push through there, like the intestine, and get caught or trapped therefore causing either an intestinal blockage or even loss of blood supply to that segment of the intestine that’s trapped there. And that makes it a much more urgent or emergent surgical procedure,” says Dr. Miter.

Hernia operations are often done using minimally invasive techniques, meaning there is little blood loss and a quick recovery time.