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How Does Hernia Surgery Work?

By Kirk Brown ; Updated July 27, 2017

Hernia Facts

A hernia is the term for a bulge protruding through a weakness in surrounding muscles or tissue. Most hernias develop in the abdomen and groin. Unfortunately, a hernia won't go away on its own. Surgery is the only way to repair these defects.

An estimated 5 million Americans – the majority whom are men – develop hernias each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But because they fear the prospect of surgery, many opt to suffer silently with a medical problem that can lead to potentially life-threatening symptoms. The most serious complication involves what is known as a strangulated hernia. When the supply of blood is cut off to tissue trapped inside a hernia, a deadly infection can develop rapidly - a situation demanding immediate medical attention.

Evolving Surgical Techniques

Efforts to repair hernias date back to the time of the Egyptian pharaohs.

In the 1880s, a surgical technique for repairing hernias was developed that remained widely used for the next century. This technique involved making a sizable incision in the groin, pushing the bulging hernia back into the abdomen and then closing the defect by suturing together surrounding tissues. Patients often stayed in the hospital for a week following surgery, walked with a cane for four to six weeks afterward and did not return to their jobs for three months. Besides the pain and long recovery time associated with traditional hernia-repair surgeries, there was another drawback: a high rate of recurrence.

Today hernia-repair operations are among the most routinely performed - and safest - of all surgeries. And thanks to new breakthroughs patients are experiencing less pain, faster recoveries and a reduced risk of recurrent hernias.

Using special meshes, surgeons can now create a tension-free plug and/or patch to repair hernias instead of suturing tissues together. This technique has greatly reduced the risk of the recurrence.

Patients also may choose a minimally invasive surgical option called laparoscopy for having their hernias repaired. Surgeons who repair hernias laparoscopically do not use scar-producing incisions to gain access to patients’ abdominal wall defects. They have a different view of hernia-repair operations – literally. Using a miniature camera and specially designed medical instruments, these surgeons perform procedures through three tiny holes that are smaller than a fingertip.

Faster Recoveries

Hernia surgeries are now more effective and less taxing for patients. Today all but the most complicated hernia repairs are performed on an outpatient basis and patients are getting back on their feet faster than ever - typically in a matter of days. Many of these patients also can avoid using pain-killing medications during their recovery.

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