What Is an Inguinal Hernia?

An inguinal hernia is a condition in which part of the intestine bulges through a hole in the abdominal wall of the groin. There are two types of inguinal hernias:

  • Indirect inguinal hernias — usually present at birth. The majority of inguinal hernias are indirect.
  • Direct inguinal hernias — usually happen later in life due to heavy lifting or straining.

Indirect Inguinal Hernias in Babies and Children 

As babies develop in the womb, an opening in the abdominal wall allows reproductive organs to move into place—testicles move into the scrotum in baby boys, and the labia connects to the abdominal wall in baby girls. Inguinal hernias can happen when that opening doesn’t close during development.

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Inguinal Hernia Symptoms

Symptoms of an inguinal hernia in your child may include:

  • A bulge in the groin that goes away when lying down or resting
  • Burning or aching at the bulge and/or groin
  • Pain in the groin or near the bulge during energetic activities or when having a bowel movement

If a hernia is left untreated, the part of the intestine that is bulging out can get trapped outside. This is called an incarcerated hernia and can cause severe pain, nausea and vomiting, a swollen belly, intestinal damage, and severe constipation. Take your child to his or her health care provider or an emergency department immediately if you think he or she has an inguinal hernia.

Inguinal Hernia Surgery

Surgery is the only way to treat an inguinal hernia. The surgery team will make a small opening in the side of the groin, place the intestines inside the abdomen, and close the opening with stitches under the skin that will dissolve over time. Wound closure strips or surgical glue will cover the skin of the incision site. Some surgeons do this laparoscopically (a type of procedure that uses a tiny camera and smaller incisions than traditional surgeries).

Older children can often go home a few hours after waking up from surgery, but premature babies will need to stay in the hospital overnight for monitoring.

Recovery from Hernia Surgery

Many children and babies experience discoloration of the scrotum and swelling after surgery, which will go away over time. Medical staff will teach you how to care for your child’s incision site before you take him or her home. It’s important to know that you will likely see blood stains on your child’s wound closure strips as you’re caring for the incision site.

Your child can take a shower or have a sponge bath two days after surgery. Be sure to pat the wound closure strips dry afterward. You should not give your child a bath for one week after surgery because the incision site can’t be soaked or submerged until then.

Medications

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen should be enough to keep your child’s pain under control. Be sure to follow the dosage guidelines on the medication packaging.

Exercise and Physical Activity

Your child shouldn’t play any contact sports or lift anything heavy for at least two weeks following surgery. He or she can become active again as tolerated.

Read our After Surgery Instructions for more information.

Seek Immediate Care

Contact your doctor if your child experiences:

  • A temperature higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • A change in scrotum size or color
  • A change in the texture of the scrotum (becomes firmer)
  • Bleeding into the scrotum or blood-soaked wound closure strips
  • Pus, redness, swelling, or continued pain at the incision site
  • Green or yellow vomit, bloody diarrhea, or diarrhea that lasts more than a week
  • Dehydration
  • Redness, drainage, swelling, or tenderness at the incision site

Take your child to the emergency room or call 911 immediately if he or she is having trouble breathing.