The most common sign of a hernia is a soft swelling or bulge under your skin. The type of hernia you have will determine where the bulge appears on your body. Some hernias can only be seen when you stand up and may disappear completely when you lie down. Others may only be visible when you strain your muscles by coughing, sneezing, bending or lifting. Usually, the bulge is soft enough that you can gently push it back into your abdomen and often is not there when you wake up in the morning.
Most hernias do not cause painful symptoms. Sometimes, the area around your hernia may be tender and you may feel some sharp twinges or a pulling sensation. As your hernia gets bigger, your pain and discomfort may increase. If it is not repaired, a hernia may eventually prevent you from enjoying normal activities, such as exercising, grocery shopping or having sex.
When an organ, such as your intestine, pushes through the abdominal wall, there is a small risk that it could get trapped there. This is known as an incarcerated hernia. If your hernia is trapped outside of the abdominal wall, you won‘t be able to push it back into your abdomen and it may feel hard and painful. Contact your doctor right away if you have this condition.
If left untreated, an incarcerated hernia may become strangulated. This means that the hernia is tightly trapped and blood will no longer flow into the tissues. Without a normal blood supply, the trapped tissues may die. A strangulated hernia is not very common but may cause severe pain, nausea, vomiting and even death. A strangulated hernia requires immediate medical attention. Leaving a hernia until this stage means that you will have emergency surgery at your local general hospital and will lose the option of choosing how and when your hernia will be repaired.
If you have a hernia, contact your doctor right away if:
- your hernia becomes very painful,
- your hernia can‘t be pushed back into your abdomen,
- and you feel sick to your stomach (nauseated) or vomit or have a fever
Hernia or groin strain?
It‘s not always easy to diagnose a hernia. Every year, over 1,000 patients come to the Shouldice Hospital, convinced that they have a hernia when, in fact, they really have a groin strain. Surgery may not be the right solution for these patients.
If you think you might have a hernia, come to the Shouldice Hospital walk-in clinic for an examination. The highly specialized Shouldice surgical team diagnose and treat thousands of hernias every year. They have the expertise to provide a proper diagnosis and may help you avoid an unnecessary operation. Examinations in our Walk-in clinic are provided at no direct cost to our patients.