Abdominal Wall Hernia
What is an abdominal wall hernia?
An abdominal wall hernia is a defect, or abnormal opening, in the muscle or connective tissue layers that make up the abdominal wall. The abdominal wall is what keeps your internal organs inside and protected from the outside world. The abdominal wall extends from the bottom of the breastbone (sternum), down to the pubic bone, and outwards on both sides around to your back. When an abnormal opening, or gap, develops in the abdominal wall it is called a hernia. Intra-abdominal structures can then become entrapped in the opening, leading to pain and even life-threatening situations requiring emergency surgery. Inguinal (groin), Umbilical (belly button), Femoral, Ventral, and Incisional hernias are all subtypes of abdominal wall hernias.
What causes an abdominal wall hernia?
A weakness in the layers of the abdominal wall is what is responsible for the formation of a hernia. This can be a natural weakness, for example those that commonly occur in the groin or belly button, or can develop at a weak point in a healed incision from prior surgery, called an incisional hernia.
What are the symptoms of an abdominal wall hernia?
Usually pain associated with a bulge are the first signs of an abdominal wall hernia. These can occur in the groin, at the bellybutton, or through a prior incision site from surgery, even years after the scar has healed.
How are abdominal wall hernias diagnosed?
Abdominal wall hernias are sometimes diagnosed by the patient who feels a bulge and is sometimes associated with pain. If this is the case, the hernia needs to be confirmed by a physician exam. Hernias can also be diagnosed on imaging studies such as CT scan. If you think you have a hernia, see your doctor right away. If the bulge is associated with severe pain accompanied by persistent nausea and vomiting, and inability to pass gas or stool you may have an intestinal obstruction where a loop of intestine has become stuck (incarcerated) at the hernia defect. This is a serious emergency situation–proceed to your nearest emergency room immediately.
How are abdominal wall hernias treated?
Abdominal wall hernias are treated with surgical repair, and depending on the size of the defect opening and other factors associated with your individual medical profile are often repaired with hernia mesh. These procedures are done either through an open incision or laparoscopically (through small incisions) depending on the type of hernia and work required for repair.
Why should I have my hernia fixed?
If you suspect that you have an abdominal wall hernia, and it is causing you pain or discomfort, you should see your primary doctor for an exam and confirmation of the hernia. You can then request a referral to a hernia repair specialist, such as the surgeons at Advanced Surgical and Bariatrics of NJ. All symptomatic hernias in general should be repaired.
What is hernia repair mesh?
Hernia repair meshes are generally similar to the material used to make mosquito nets. However, hernia meshes are highly developed materials engineered specifically for use as sterile medical devices used for abdominal wall reinforcement. Due to ongoing advances in technology, hernia meshes are an intense area of ongoing research and development and therefore require proper selection by a surgeon with specialty training in hernia repair materials. The hernia specialists at Advanced Surgical & Bariatrics of NJ can meet with you for consultation and provide you with more information on which mesh is best for you and why.
Definitive hernia repair
There is no guarantee that a hernia will not return after surgery. The best way to reduce your chances of recurrence are to avoid smoking and achieve a normal body weight prior to surgery. You will also need to avoid abdominal stressors such as straining, heavy lifting, chronic cough, and weight regain after surgery. Repairing recurrent hernias (those that have occurred after previous repair) are exceedingly complex difficult cases, and the chance for definitive (lasting repair) goes down with each subsequent operation. Your first hernia surgery therefore represents your best chance at achieving a lasting repair, so you will need to reduce as many personal risk factors for recurrence as much as possible before your first operation and maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle afterwards.