An inguinal hernia occurs when abdominal tissues, like loops of intestine or fatty omentum, protrude through a weak point or defect in the lower abdominal muscles. This causes a noticeable bulge and discomfort in the groin region. But what factors actually cause this muscular weakness that allows herniation to occur? In this article, I will explain the primary causes that lead to inguinal hernias.
One of the most common causes of inguinal hernias is when the abdominal wall fails to close properly during fetal development. In the womb, the testicles descend from the abdomen into the scrotum through a tunnel-like passageway called the inguinal canal. This passageway normally seals off before birth. If it stays open, it creates a natural defect or weak spot prone to herniation later in life.
Strain Causing Muscle Weakness
While some are born with the defect, in others, constant strain on the abdominal muscles eventually causes them to weaken and separate. This allows the intestines to gradually push through and form a hernia. Anything that chronically increases pressure in the abdomen can worsen the strain over time, including obesity, persistent coughing, urinary problems, and frequently lifting heavy objects.
Prior Surgery or Injury
Previous surgical incisions, especially in the lower abdomen, can leave behind scar tissue or microscopic gaps in the muscles. This creates areas of structural weakness where hernias may later develop. Any prior injury, like blunt trauma, that damages the abdominal wall can also predispose you to hernias. Even laparoscopic or robotic procedures carry some risk.
Aging and Overexertion
Aging naturally weakens connective tissue and abdominal muscles over time. The collagen that gives tissues their strength and elasticity begins to break down. This leaves older adults more susceptible to developing hernias, especially if they consistently overexert themselves physically. Combining age-related weakness with heavy lifting, chronic coughing, or obesity significantly increases risk.
Gender and Family History
Men are far more prone to inguinal hernias, due to their narrower inguinal canal and the prior passage of the testicles during development. Family history also plays a role, as certain genetic factors can cause connective tissue to be more fragile and prone to herniation. Having close family members with hernias raises your risk.
Summary of Main Causes:
– Congenital defect in the abdominal wall muscles
– Chronic strain leading to muscle weakness
– Prior abdominal surgery or injury causing structural weakness
– Aging and overexertion weakening connective tissues
– Male gender and family history increasing innate risk
Knowing the major causes offers insight into your risk and prevention. While not all inguinal hernias can be avoided, minimizing strain and heavy lifting can help. Please let me know if you have any other questions!
Dr. Rajarshi Mitra is a patient-centered, highly-rated Specialist Laparoscopic Surgeon & Proctologist in Abu Dhabi, offering Advanced Laparoscopic Surgery, Minimally Invasive Proctology & Lasers in Proctology. He is MBBS; MS (Surgery); FIAGES; FICS (USA); Dip. Lap (France); and Dip. Hernia (APHS) with 18 years of extensive experience in Laparoscopic Surgery, Minimally Invasive Proctology and Fellowship training in Colorectal and Bariatric Surgery.