A hernia is the protrusion of an organ through its containing wall, and groin hernias are the most common types of hernias.
In men, groin hernias occur more often on the right side than the left, and in situations where there is raised abdominal pressure, such as builders doing heavy lifting, or smokers who are prone to bouts of coughing. While they are more common in men, they also occur in women.
Many men will discover a groin hernia – known as an inguinal hernia – when a lump or bulge appears. Symptoms include groin tenderness, discomfit or pain, particularly when straining, bending over, or lifting anything heavy.
According to Dr Ba Nguyen, General and Colorectal Surgeon at Epworth, men will often notice their hernia lump getting progressively bigger during the daytime, particularly if straining and upright, and then smaller, or ‘reducing’, once they lie down. Occasionally the testes may swell up if the bowel descends into the scrotum.
“Sometimes, the bowel can get trapped in the hernia, causing a bowel obstruction which requires emergency surgery,” Ba says. “If you have a hernia, it is best to repair it before it gets to that stage.”
Many people are asymptomatic (without symptoms), and only discover a hernia by chance through scans for to an unrelated medical investigation. These hernias have often been present since birth, and sometimes doctors choose not to operate depending upon size of the hernia and other factors.
There are two options for surgical repair of a hernia: open or keyhole (laparoscopic). Both options are widely used and depend on your circumstances. Both involve the use of a prosthetic mesh to reinforce the abdominal wall.
“Recovery is more rapid following keyhole surgery, particularly if we repair both sides at once. However, the approach needs to be individualised to the particular hernia and patient characteristics,” Ba says.
“For example, if there is any indication that the patient may have prostate issues, than it may be more appropriate to avoid a keyhole approach which may interfere with future prostate surgery.
“If you are young and fit you will often have same day surgery. Some patients opt to stay in overnight, particularly in the case of open surgery, mostly for the rest post-operatively.”
The recovery afterwards can be slightly uncomfortable, and doctors recommend a recover period of a few days off work after surgery,
“We advise patients not to swim for two weeks, and to shower rather than take a bath over that time as well,” Ba says.
“We also advise refraining from heavy lifting. I tell my patients that a limit of 10–15 kilograms is all they should lift for a month, particularly after open surgery.”
Activities such as walking and cycling are perfect post-operatively, but it is best to avoid gym workouts for a month.
Ba recommends seeing your GP if you discover a lump or a dragging sensation in the groin.
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