How an Incarcerated Hernia can Strangle You

What is a Hernia?

A hernia is a protrusion of organs, such as intestines, through a weakened section of the abdominal wall.  A visible lump or bulge is one of the key characteristics of a hernia. The main symptom of a hernia is the appearance of a lump in the abdomen or groin area. Most hernias do not cause painful symptoms; sometimes the area around your hernia may be tender.

The most common site of a hernia is the groin, but hernias can also form in other areas, such as the navel.  An inguinal hernia occurs in the groin and tends to become larger with time. This is the most common form of hernia, occurring in 9 out of 10 hernias.  The loop of intestine pushes against the small ring of muscle in the groin, eventually splitting the muscle fibers apart.  

What is an Incarcerated Hernia?

If you are are not able to push the hernia in the omentum or a loop of intestine can be trapped (incarcerated) in the abdominal wall.  An incarcerated hernia can lead to a strangulated hernia, which cuts off the blood supply to the intestine. 

An incarcerated hernia is an emergency when it becomes a "strangulated hernia".  A strangulated hernia can be identified by deep red or purple color of the bulging tissue and may be accompanied by severe pain, but is not always painful. 

What are the Symptoms of an Incarcerated Hernia?

Symptoms of an incarcerated hernia may include nausea, vomiting, fever, rapid heart beat, sudden pain that quickly intensifies and a hernia bulge that turns red, purple or dark.  

How is an Incarcerated Hernia Diagnosed?

The physician should elicit a detailed history about the lump in your groin:

  • When did the lump first appear?
  • How big is the lump?
  • Has the lump grown in size?
  • Did the lump develop suddenly or over a few days?
  • Did the lump change in size or shape when you cough? (this could indicate a hernia)

An incarcerated hernia is diagnosed through a physical examination.  Your doctor should always promptly examine a groin lump. It is important to determine whether the hernia is reducible; a hernia that gets stuck in the "out" position is referred to as an incarcerated hernia.

What is the Treatment for an Incarcerated Hernia?

Prompt medical attention and surgery is vital. An inguinal hernia will not heal itself and requires surgery to be repaired. Untreated, an incarcerated hernia can lead to gangrene of the trapped bowel. Both reducible and non-reducible hernias need to be surgically repaired.

A strangulated hernia is a serious condition and requires immediate medical attention. If surgery is not performed right away, the condition can become life threatening and the affected intestine may die due to lack of blood supply (a/k/a "dead gut").

Have Questions?

If you have questions about an incarcerated or strangulated hernia, we will be happy to speak with you. You can call us at 518-265-9131.