What’s the difference between a femoral and inguinal hernia?

Published: Monday, July 8, 2024

If someone tells you they have a hernia, you might think you know what that means. After all, one hernia is like another, right? Not exactly! There are multiple types, including femoral and inguinal hernia.

The basics are the same. A hernia is a tear in muscle or tissue that allows part of your insides to bulge out. This often occurs when the muscle wall or tissue weakens over time, gradually tearing and creating an opening.

Hernias can also develop due to surgery-related muscle weakness, a chronic cough, straining while using the restroom, an injury while lifting, pregnancy, or even a congenital defect.

The difference between hernias is where they originate. There are five primary types of hernia: femoral, hiatal, incisional, inguinal, and umbilical. In this blog, we’re breaking down the difference between two of those types—femoral and inguinal hernia.

What is a femoral hernia?

A femoral hernia is a hernia in the upper thigh, just below the groin. This type of hernia occurs when abdominal tissue pushes through the abdominal wall, causing a bulge in the thigh.

Femoral hernias are relatively uncommon, accounting for only 2 to 4 percent of all hernias. They most commonly occur in women, particularly in older women. Researchers believe the increased risk among women is due to the anatomical structure of the female pelvis.

Those who develop a femoral hernia may not experience any noticeable symptoms. If symptoms are experienced, they may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Sudden groin or thigh pain
  • Vomiting

Small or mid-sized femoral hernias may not cause a bulge that’s visible outside the body, but larger hernias are typically more obvious.

What is an inguinal hernia?

An inguinal hernia is a hernia in the groin. This type of hernia occurs when part of the intestines or abdominal tissue pushes through a weakened spot in the abdominal muscles and into the groin.

Inguinal hernias are the most common type of hernia, and they are far more common in men than in women. Interestingly enough, while inguinal hernias can develop on either side of the groin, they more often form on the right.

Inguinal hernias are less common in women because the “inguinal canal” in the front abdominal wall is narrower. When women do experience an inguinal hernia, an ovary or another part of the female reproductive system may be part of what bulges out of the abdomen. According to the National Library of Medicine, women with an inguinal hernia also often have a hidden femoral hernia.

Those who develop an inguinal hernia will often first notice a bulge in the groin area on either side of the pubic bone. Other symptoms may include:

  • Burning or pinching in the groin, pelvis, and even the legs
  • Pain in the groin or hip when lifting or straining
  • Pressure or a feeling of heaviness in the groin

Less commonly, a type of inguinal hernia known as an indirect inguinal hernia may not cause a palpable or visible bulge since the bulge is located behind muscle.

What to do if you think you have a hernia

If you are experiencing symptoms that could be related to a hernia, check in with your primary care provider. During an exam, your provider can assess whether you have a hernia and refer you to a hernia specialist if needed.

While most hernias do not require immediate medical attention, there are some symptoms that can be a red flag for a strangulated hernia. A strangulated hernia is exactly what it sounds like—it occurs when blood supply to the bulged area is cut off.

When this happens, it is a potentially life-threatening emergency since a strangulated hernia can quickly lead to tissue death. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • An inability to push the hernia inward
  • Changes in the color of a hernia bulge
  • Chills
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Heavy bleeding
  • High fever
  • Severe pain
  • Shortness of breath

Whether you require immediate care or are referred for treatment, surgery is the only definitive treatment for a hernia. During hernia surgery, the weakened abdominal wall will be repaired and closed using stitches and mesh.

In cases of a strangulated hernia, the hernia will first be reduced by gently pushing it back into the body. This should restore normal blood flow. Once this step is complete, the abdominal wall will be repaired and closed.

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.