Hernias occur when there is a weakness or a hole in the abdominal wall fascia that allows a part of the body (abdominal tissue or intestine for example) to protrude. This results in internal contents swelling /bulging through. While in many cases the condition is treated by performing an operation, a number of non-surgical medications are also available. The next question, can you fix it without surgery?
Fascia, a sheet (layer) of your abdominal wall, is responsible to help keep all of your abdominal contents (including your stomach, small intestines, and bowel) in place. So the strength of fascia is very important to support many parts and organs in your abdominal cavity.
Several factors and conditions can weaken the fascia, causing a weakness spot or a hole which may drive a bulge (lump) of hernia to appear. These include:
- Chronic conditions that cause frequent excess pressure on the abdominal cavity, such as frequent straining on the toilet (chronic constipation), chronic coughing, and frequent lifting heavy loads.
- Overweight and obesity. More fats that accumulate in your belly can cause extra pressure on your abdomen that will weaken your abdominal wall fascia over time.
- Being older. In general, the strength of abdomen (including the abdominal wall fascia) decreases with age. Therefore, the risk of hernias increases as we get older.
- In most cases, hernias are more common in men – though there are also a few types of hernia that affect women more often than men, such as femoral hernias.
A weakness spot of fascia may also have been present at birth. So there are many factors that can affect the risk.
The exact cause of hernias is not fully understood in some cases. Hiatal hernias, for instance, is more difficult to understand since the underlying cause sometimes remains puzzling, though aging and excess pressure on the abdominal cavity are also often to blame! But whatever that causes the problem – it’s usually treatable and may never come back after treatment.
Surgery is common treatment option. It can help fix and close the hole of your fascia. But though it is usually successful, it’s not without risks. Even sometimes the surgery-related pain could be chronic and more bothersome. That’s why some experts say that early hernia-repair surgery is not always necessary. Does this mean that you can fix the problem without surgery?
How about alternative treatments? There are several choices to choose form such as herbs, supplements, or other techniques. Some might help improve hernia symptoms, but they don’t cure the disease. Furthermore, most of them don’t get FDA approval – so ask your doctor first to keep safe!
So currently, surgery is the only way to fix hernias. The decision of whether or not you have to take early surgery is dependent on several factors, especially such as the severity of the condition.
If your hernia is asymptomatic and doesn’t cause any discomforts, it’s usually recommended to go with wait-and-see approach. But if it bothers you a lot or has caused signs and symptoms of serious complications (such as incarcerated or strangulated hernia), immediate surgery is necessary! Incarcerated hernia is a condition in which the bulge gets trapped or doesn’t improve with manual pressure. Without immediate treatment, this may lead to strangulation (when the affected tissues don’t get enough blood so they can die). Strangulation can also cause serious internal infection and dangerous blood poisoning (also called sepsis).
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to make decision between delaying surgery and taking it early, even though if your hernia is small and manageable. You may feel anxious and depressed if the condition is left untreated without surgery – because as long as you have it, there is always a chance for the bulge to get incarcerated and become fatal. In other words, wait-and-see approach also carries potential risks.
For more information, see also what to understand before choosing ‘early hernia-repair surgery’ and ‘wait-and-see approach’ in this section! But for more guidance, consult with your doctor or specialist.