Inguinal Hernia



When tissue pokes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscle wall into the groin, an inguinal hernia occurs. Most are not painful, although some may cause discomfort – especially when patients lift, bend, or cough. Inguinal hernias that do not improve may cause serious complications if left untreated and may require surgery to repair. If your hernia grows larger or becomes painful, contact Charleston GI today!


CAUSEinguinal hernia

An inguinal hernia may be caused by any of the following:

  • Increased pressure within the abdomen
  • A pre-existing weak area in the abdominal wall
  • Excessive straining when urinating or passing a bowel movement
  • Strenuous exercise/physical activity
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic coughing or sneezing

While these causes are common, some inguinal hernias have no obvious cause. For instance, abdominal wall weakness may occur in the womb when the muscle fails to close as it should. In other cases, hernias develop later in life due as the muscles deteriorate due to age. Injury or surgery may also be to blame for hernias that develop later in life. 

In male patients, the weak spot usually occurs in the inguinal canal, where the spermatic cord enters the scrotum. In female patients, the inguinal canal carries a ligament that helps hold the uterus in place, with hernias often occurring where uterine tissue connects to the tissue surrounding the pubic bone.


Here at Charleston GI, our gastroenterologists recommend that hernia patients avoid the following foods: 

  • Processed foods (ex. frozen dinners, packaged snacks, etc.) in excess
  • Red meat in excess
  • Sugary products (ex. baked goods, desserts, etc.) in excess


Consuming large meals puts pressure on the stomach, making hernias more painful – especially hiatal and umbilical ones. Acidic citrus foods may aggravate hernia symptoms as well. 


Your GI doctor may suggest adding the following foods to your diet:

  • Fruits (especially non-citrus varieties)
  • Vegetables (greens and those rich in fiber)
  • Whole grains 
  • Legumes (ex. lentils, beans, etc.)
  • Lean protein
  • Nutritious oils (avocado, extra virgin olive, etc.)


  • Males are eight times more likely to develop an inguinal hernia.
  • Older adults as muscles naturally deteriorate with age.
  • Caucasian people
  • Those with a family history of hernias, including close relatives like parents or siblings.
  • Patients with a chronic cough, often the result of smoking.
  • Chronic constipation sufferers due to excessive straining.
  • Pregnant women due to increased abdominal pressure and weakened muscles.
  • Premature babies or those born at a low weight.
  • Patients with a previous inguinal hernia or hernia repair, even if experienced during childhood.


If you are experiencing the following GI symptoms, contact your Charleston area gastroenterologist to schedule an appointment today:

  • Bulge on either side of the pubic bone that becomes more pronounced when you're upright, coughing, or straining.
  • Burning or aching sensation at the bulge.
  • Groin pain.
  • Heavy or dragging feeling in the groin.
  • Groin weakness or pressure.
  • Testicular pain and swelling.


Be sure to contact Charleston GI immediately if your hernia begins to turn purple, red, or darker in color – or if you note any other indications of a strangulated hernia. This condition can be life-threatening if untreated, often presenting these symptoms:

  • Nausea or vomiting (or both)
  • Fever
  • Sudden, rapidly intensifying pain.
  • Hernia bulge that becomes red, purple, or dark.
  • Inability to pass gas or bowel movements.


Your GI specialist may rely on these tests to confirm an inguinal hernia diagnosis:

  • Physical exam.
  • Imaging test (ex. abdominal ultrasound, CT scan or MRI)


Hernia surgeries fall into one of two categories: open hernia repair and minimally invasive hernia repair. Here’s what you need to know about each:

Open Hernia Repair

An open hernia repair is performed by making a small cut in the groin, pushing the bulge back into place, and strengthening the weak area with a synthetic mesh. A short recovery is needed before resuming normal daily activities.

Minimally Invasive Hernia Repair

This surgical procedure involves a small abdominal incision, resulting in a shorter recovery period. This option is often recommended for patients with recurrent hernias or hernias on both sides of the body. A few weeks may still be required before full recovery is achieved.


Congenital conditions, of course, cannot be prevented, but the following lifestyle choices can help reduce strain on your body:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. 
  • Choose fiber-rich foods to avoid constipation.
  • Avoid heavy lifting. 
  • Quit smoking.



What aggravates an inguinal hernia?

These symptoms may lead to an inguinal hernia diagnosis: abdominal or groin pain, pain that worsens when you sneeze, cough, strain, or lift something heavy.

What are some complications related to having an inguinal hernia?

Common complications of an inguinal hernia include:

  • Pressure on surrounding tissues that may cause swelling or pain.
  • Incarcerated hernia (when contents get trapped in the weak spot and obstruct the bowel).
  • Strangulation (when blood flow to the intestine is cut off).

What are some signs of inguinal hernia in children?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, inguinal hernias in newborns and children are caused by an abdominal wall weakness that's present at birth. Sometimes the hernia appears only when a baby is crying, coughing, or straining during a bowel movement. Irritability and decreased appetite may result. In older kids, the hernia will likely be visible when they strain, cough, or stand for an extended period of time. If you suspect a hernia, visit your child’s pediatrician immediately. 

What happens if an inguinal hernia is left untreated?

If a hernia is left untreated, it may grow in size. In some cases, it can become strangulated – a potentially life-threatening condition.

How is an inguinal hernia fixed?

Inguinal hernias are surgically repaired. During the procedure, the bulge is pushed back in, and the muscle wall is strengthened. If your hernia is painful or may cause complications, surgery may be recommended by your GI doctor.

What is the common cause of inguinal hernia?

An inguinal hernia occurs due to muscular weakening in the lower abdomen. 

What age is inguinal hernia most common?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), inguinal hernias are more common in children under five years old. In adults, inguinal hernia cases increase with age, mainly impacting patients between age 75 and 80.

Is having an inguinal hernia life threatening?

Hernias that don’t improve on their own can lead to life-threatening complications. If this is the case, your Charleston GI specialists will likely recommend immediate surgery to repair the issue. 

How long can you live with inguinal hernia without surgery?

Hernias don't repair without medical intervention. While only surgery can completely repair a hernia, many patients are able to put it off for months or even years. Some may never need surgery at all! To learn more about your specific treatment, consult your gastroenterologist.

Is inguinal hernia surgery high risk?

No, the risk of complications is low.

How long is inguinal hernia surgery recovery?

Most people are able to return to light activities and work (non-manual labor jobs) within one to two weeks.  

What can you not do after hernia surgery?

Your GI doctor will provide post-surgery instructions, so be sure to follow them carefully! There are some things to avoid immediately after, like submerging the surgical incision, engaging in strenuous physical activity, or driving while on pain medication.  

Is walking good for inguinal hernia?

Yes, low-impact activities like walking, swimming, and yoga are recommended before surgery.

Is lying down good for inguinal hernia?

Yes, lying down can help reduce discomfort and hernia symptoms.

Is drinking a lot of water good for a hernia?

Staying hydrated throughout the day is key but be sure to avoid drinking too much water at once. This may cause bloating and aggravate symptoms.


To learn more about treatment for GI tract issues in Charleston, SC, get in touch today! Charleston Gastroenterology is committed to a higher standard of caring – and we provide a range of medical treatments to help you feel your best.

If you are experiencing GI tract symptoms or pains, schedule your appointment today! No referral needed.