Are hernias after surgery common?

Published: Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Anyone who is preparing for a surgical procedure probably has many questions and a few worries. Are hernias after surgery something else you need to be worried about?

Let’s put your fears to rest. While it is possible to develop a hernia after surgery, it doesn’t happen in most cases.

Instead of worrying about what might happen, talk with your surgeon and other members of your care team about steps you can take to lower your risk.

In the meantime, keep reading. We’re talking you through the basics of incisional hernias and how to prevent them below.

What causes hernias after surgery?

Hernias that occur around a surgical scar, called “incisional hernias,” happen when the cut made in your abdominal wall doesn’t close up after an abdominal surgery. When this happens, the abdominal muscles can weaken, creating ideal circumstances for a hernia.

In the majority of cases, the surgical incision closes up completely and heals thoroughly. But in about 15% of cases, an incisional hernia occurs. Your risk of incisional hernia decreases with minimally invasive surgery.

Incisional hernias can occur for a few different reasons, mostly related to postsurgical activities. Putting too much pressure on the abdomen, becoming pregnant before the cut is fully healed or resuming physical activities too soon after surgery can all keep the surgical incision from healing properly, resulting in a hernia.

There are also some factors that can increase the risk of a slow-healing surgical cut, including an infection, an underlying health condition that impacts the wound-healing process, or certain medications that suppress the immune system. Being obese or smoking also increases the risk.

Having an emergency surgery or requiring a large incision may also be factors in the development of incisional hernias.

How can you prevent hernias after surgery?

While not every incisional hernia can be prevented, many can be! The best thing you can do is to carefully follow your surgeon’s advice as you prepare for surgery and recover after surgery.

We recommend patients explore minimally invasive, robotic and laparoscopic surgery with their surgeon to determine the best method for their case. NGMC is proud to be the first hospital in Georgia to receive accreditation as a Center of Excellence in both Robotic Surgery and Hernia Surgery.

If your surgery is planned, you may benefit by taking some precautionary action beforehand. If you’re overweight or obese, losing even a few extra pounds can be helpful, since it reduces the amount of pressure placed on the abdomen.

If you have diabetes, work carefully with your care team to effectively manage your condition and get your blood sugar in a healthy range. Having high blood sugar can negatively impact how wounds heal, which could increase the risk of a surgical incision not closing properly.

After surgery, be careful! Most incisional hernias develop in the first three to six months after a surgical procedure, so it’s important to follow your surgeon’s recommendations as you heal.

When you undergo surgery, you will typically be given a set of instructions that will outline precautions you need to take as you recover, both in the hospital and at home. Your care team will review those instructions with you, so be sure to ask any questions that you have about how to handle your recovery.

Postsurgical instructions, whether included in a written form or provided in person by your surgeon, will include detailed guidance on what you can do in the days and weeks following surgery—and what you should not do.

Post-operative abdominal core exercises are important to help regain strength and mobility following surgery.

How are incisional hernias treated?

If a hernia develops after surgery, you’ll notice some tell-tale signs, including a visible bulging around the surgical scar. You may also experience a fever, discomfort or a burning sensation around the hernia, abdominal pain and stomach-related symptoms like constipation or diarrhea, narrow stool, or nausea and vomiting.

If you experience any of those symptoms, check in with your surgeon promptly. Your provider will evaluate your symptoms and do a physical exam to determine if you have an incisional hernia and what type it is.

Reducible hernias can be pushed back in and may shrink when you’re lying down. Irreducible hernias, on the other hand, cannot be pushed back in.

The type of hernia, along with the size of the hernia, will help your provider determine how to treat it. In most cases, hernia repair surgery will be needed to properly treat the hernia and provide relief from symptoms.

If a hernia develops after surgery, don’t wait! Seek prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Next Steps

When you need hernia repair, you want expert care. You’ll find that at the Hernia Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, where we offer access to hernia specialists and the most advanced robotic and minimally invasive surgical techniques for hernia repair. Call 770-219-4040 to learn more or schedule an appointment.