Can there be complications from not treating a hernia?

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2024

If you have a small hernia that isn’t causing you much discomfort, you may be tempted to put off seeking treatment. In most cases, a small delay in treating a hernia won’t cause problems, but there can sometimes be complications from not treating a hernia.

When you have a calendar that’s filled up with to-dos, it’s all too easy to prioritize the needs of others over yourself. Most of us have postponed a medical appointment a time or two or waited for an illness to worsen before seeking care.

Deep inside, you probably know that’s not the best plan. Seeking care when you aren’t feeling your best or when something is potentially wrong can help ensure you stay healthy and well.

That’s definitely the case when it comes to a hernia. If you notice a bulge that could be a hernia and you’re experiencing discomfort or other symptoms, it’s important to have your symptoms checked out. Because it’s possible to have complications from not treating a hernia, it’s also better to play it safe.

Does a hernia always need treatment?

A hernia is a tear in the muscle wall that allows an organ or tissue to bulge through. That’s what creates the noticeable bulge that’s common with many types of hernia.

There can be many different causes of hernia, but they all boil down to one thing—they weaken the muscle wall to the extent that it tears. Once a hernia develops, it won’t close itself back up. In order to fully heal a hernia, surgery is needed.

If you have a small, uncomplicated hernia, your medical provider may offer treatment options that don’t include surgery at first. Lifestyle changes may help limit discomfort and lessen other symptoms.

Ultimately, though, hernia surgery is the only way to repair the tear in the muscle wall and fix the hernia.

What are the potential complications from not treating a hernia?

There are multiple types of hernia, and the symptoms that you experience will vary depending on the type of hernia you have. In addition to a bulge, it’s also common to experience symptoms such as pain or pressure around the hernia, a cough, heartburn and difficulty swallowing.

When a hernia is small, it may not cause much discomfort. Over time, however, the hernia can worsen as the result of normal daily activities such as lifting, using a muscle or straining while coughing, sneezing or using the restroom.

In some cases, a hernia can create an emergency situation. As the bulge enlarges, it can become too big to work its way back inside through the tear in the abdominal wall. This causes what’s known as “strangulation,” as the hernia is stuck inside the hole and loses blood supply. A hernia can also lead to an obstructed bowel.

When this happens, it can cause severe symptoms and requires emergency treatment. Signs of a complication include:

  • Inability to pass gas or have bowel movements
  • Nausea
  • Shooting pain
  • Vomiting

In addition to these symptoms, you may notice that you cannot manually push the hernia back inside. If you have any of these symptoms, they are signs of complications from not treating a hernia. Immediate treatment is needed.

What should I do if I think I have a hernia?

If you suspect you may have a hernia, your first step is to check in with your primary care provider. Your provider can evaluate your symptoms and perform a thorough physical examination that will include manually palpating the hernia site. You may be asked to cough or bend over to make the hernia more visible.

You may also need imaging scans to confirm a hernia diagnosis. From there, you’ll be referred to a hernia specialist, like those at the Hernia Center of Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC), who can suggest treatment options.

The specialist can help you determine when to have hernia surgery, as well as the type of surgery that’s best for you. During surgery, the hernia will be pushed back inside, then the tear in the muscle wall will be repaired, often using surgical mesh to strengthen it.

In many cases, hernia specialists at the Hernia Center of NGMC are able to perform minimally invasive or robotic surgery, providing a quicker recovery for patients. In all cases, we’re committed to providing safe, effective surgical repair of hernias.

What shouldn’t you do if you think you have a hernia? Don’t wait! Like most medical issues, a hernia can worsen the longer you wait to seek care. It’s best for your health to have a potential hernia checked out promptly.

Next steps

As Georgia’s first accredited Hernia Surgery Center of Excellence, the Hernia Center of NGMC offers access to hernia specialists and the most advanced robotic and minimally invasive surgical techniques for hernia repair. Call 770-212-3109 to learn more or schedule an appointment.