An inguinal hernia occurs when tissue protrudes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles, causing a noticeable bulge and discomfort. While they are not immediately life-threatening, inguinal hernias can lead to complications if left untreated. In this article, I will provide an overview of the risks and potential consequences of leaving an inguinal hernia untreated.
Risk of Strangulation
One of the most serious risks is strangulation, where the protruding tissue becomes trapped and its blood supply is cut off. Warning signs of this include severe pain, swelling, and discoloration in the groin area. Strangulation is a medical emergency requiring immediate surgery to untwist the trapped intestine and restore blood flow before tissue damage or death of bowel tissue occurs.
An untreated hernia can also cause a bowel obstruction if a loop of the intestine becomes kinked or blocked by the hernia. This leads to severe abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, and an inability to pass gas. Bowel obstructions require hospitalization and urgent treatment.
Over time, an inguinal hernia can lead to an abscess if the protruding intestine becomes damaged and leaks intestinal contents into surrounding tissues. Abscesses cause redness, swelling, and severe pain in the groin. They require drainage and antibiotics to treat.
Enlargement of the Hernia
When left untreated, inguinal hernias tend to gradually increase in size over time. As the herniated area widens, it weakens the abdominal wall and allows more tissue to push through. Large hernias can extend down into the scrotum and are more prone to complications.
Impaired Daily Activities
Moderate to large untreated hernias can negatively impact daily activities. You may need to avoid strenuous activity, heavy lifting, and positions that aggravate the hernia. Chronic pain and discomfort can take a toll on work, exercise, and quality of life.
This occurs when an inguinal hernia becomes stuck in the hernia canal and cannot be reduced, or pushed back into place. The protruding tissue remains trapped outside the abdomen. Incarceration can sometimes resolve on its own but often requires medical treatment.
For men, an inguinal hernia that extends into the scrotum can put pressure on the blood vessels supplying the testicle and epididymis. This can cause testicular atrophy, infertility, or decreased fertility.
In rare cases, an incarcerated hernia can cut off blood flow so completely that the bowel or testicular tissue dies. This catastrophic complication requires immediate surgery and can result in losing part of the intestine or testicle.
Summary of Key Points:
– Strangulation can cut off intestinal blood supply, requiring emergency surgery
– Bowel obstructions can develop, causing severe abdominal pain, vomiting
– Abscess formation leads to swelling, and pain, and requires drainage
– Hernia size increases over time without repair
– Impairs daily activities due to pain and limitations
– Can become incarcerated or stuck outside the abdomen
– Potential testicular damage and infertility for men
– Very rarely can cause death of intestinal or testicular tissue
I strongly advise having your inguinal hernia repaired to avoid complications that could significantly impact your health, fertility, and quality of life. Please reach out to your surgeon if you would like to discuss surgical options or have any other questions. Acting sooner rather than later is recommended for the best outcomes.
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.