What is a hernia?
Hernias are bulges of material, usually contained in a body cavity, that protrude through the cavity's wall. Although hernias may infrequently occur in many parts of the body, the usual hernias encountered are composed of intestines or abdominal fatty tissue that is pushed through a defect, weakness, or entry/exit sites of structures that normally pass through in the abdominal wall (for example, the femoral canal or the closed pathway where the testicles descended during fetal development). Abdominal hernias can occur in men, women, and children at any age, but most occur in middle-aged and elderly men. They are diagnosed by feeling the bulge in the abdomen. The type of hernia depends on where it occurs (inguinal, femoral, umbilical, and others). Any condition that increases pressure on the abdominal cavity may cause a hernia (for example, coughing, heavy lifting, straining during a bowel movement, obesity). Although some hernias are painless, many are not and may lead to nausea and vomiting. Some hernias can be reduced (pushed back into the cavity) others may not (incarcerated hernias). If the opening of the incarcerated hernia is so tight that it cuts off the blood supply to the intestine segment that forms the bulge, the hernia is termed strangulated and is a medical emergency; however, any irreducible hernia needs medical evaluation.
Common hernia treatments
Surgical repair is indicated for most hernias that require treatment. All irreducible hernias need immediate evaluation because of the possibility of becoming strangulated. In some situations, surgery may be delayed or unable to be performed. Your doctor may prescribe trusses or belts to help keep the hernia reduced. People with hernias and those that have had surgical repair of hernias should avoid heavy lifting and other activities that cause high intra-abdominal pressure.
Hernia precautions and costs
You should have your doctor evaluate any bulges in your abdomen; don't wait until the area becomes constantly painful. The surgeon's cost to do the operation varies greatly according to the type of hernia and the patient's overall condition, but the average cost in the U.S. is about $800 to $900. The big charges come from the hospital as a day surgery without an overnight stay averages about $7,500 (surgical suite, equipment, nursing costs, anesthesia, recovery room, and other items) so the total cost averages about $8,400 with the operating doctor getting about 10% of the billing. However, some surgical centers that do only hernia operations quote “all inclusive” costs of about $2,000. Consulting your primary care doctor may help you choose the best surgeon for your individual problem.
Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care
Balentine, Jerry R. and Melissa Conrad Stöppler. "Hernia." eMedicineHealth. 24 Mar 2011.
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