Incisional Hernias: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Beyond

Our bodies are marvelously complex, but sometimes, even the strongest structures can develop weak points. One such issue is the development of incisional hernias. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the world of incisional hernias, exploring their definition, causes, risk factors, symptoms, treatment options, recovery process, and the long-term considerations associated with this condition.

What Are Incisional Hernias?

Incisional hernias are a specific type of hernia that develops at the site of a surgical incision or scar tissue from a previous surgery. These hernias occur when internal tissues or organs push through the weakened or damaged abdominal wall or incision site, forming a noticeable bulge or lump under the skin. Incisional hernias can vary in size and severity, and they often require medical attention and intervention.

How Are Incisional Hernias Caused?

The primary cause of incisional hernias is surgical incisions made during previous abdominal surgeries. The factors contributing to their formation include:

  1. Impaired Healing: Sometimes, the incision may not heal properly, leading to weakened tissue around the surgical site.
  2. Suture or Staple Failure: If the sutures or staples used to close the incision do not hold properly, it can result in a weak spot.
  3. Infection: Surgical site infections can disrupt the healing process and weaken the tissue.
  4. Increased Intra-Abdominal Pressure: Activities or conditions that put pressure on the abdominal area, such as heavy lifting, obesity, or chronic coughing, can increase the risk of incisional hernias.

Who Is at Most Risk of Incisional Hernias?

While anyone who has undergone abdominal surgery is potentially at risk, certain factors increase the likelihood of developing incisional hernias. The following groups are at higher risk:

  1. Obese Individuals: Excess body weight can strain the abdominal muscles and surgical incisions, making hernias more likely.
  2. Age: As individuals age, their abdominal muscles may naturally weaken, increasing the risk of hernia development.
  3. Poor Surgical Technique: Surgical errors, including improper suturing or stapling techniques, can contribute to hernia formation.
  4. Chronic Cough or Straining: Conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or constipation, which involve frequent coughing or straining, can increase intra-abdominal pressure and hernia risk.

What Are the Symptoms of an Incisional Hernia?

Incisional hernias can manifest a range of symptoms, which may include:

  1. Visible Lump or Bulge: The most common and noticeable symptom is a protrusion or lump at or near the surgical scar or incision site.
  2. Discomfort or Pain: Individuals may experience pain, aching, or discomfort, especially when lifting, coughing, or straining.
  3. Changes in the Lump: The lump may change in size, becoming more prominent with certain activities or positions.
  4. Nausea and Vomiting: In severe cases, an incisional hernia can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting if the herniated tissue becomes obstructed.

How Can Incisional Hernias Be Treated?

The treatment of incisional hernias typically involves surgical intervention. Here are the two primary surgical approaches:

  1. Open Hernia Repair: This traditional method involves making an incision near the hernia site, repositioning the protruding tissue, and reinforcing the abdominal wall with sutures or mesh.
  2. Laparoscopic Hernia Repair: A minimally invasive approach where small incisions are made, and a laparoscope (a thin tube with a camera) is used to guide the surgeon in repositioning the herniated tissue and placing mesh to reinforce the weakened area.

What Is Recovery Like From Incisional Hernias Surgery?

Recovery from incisional hernia surgery depends on several factors, including the size of the hernia, the surgical approach used, and individual health. However, some general aspects of recovery include:

  1. Pain Management: Pain and discomfort are common after surgery, but pain medications are prescribed to manage these symptoms.
  2. Physical Activity: Rest and limited physical activity are advised in the initial weeks after surgery to allow for proper healing.
  3. Diet: A soft diet may be recommended initially to prevent straining during bowel movements, with a gradual return to a regular diet.
  4. Incision Care: Proper wound care is crucial to prevent infection. Keeping the incision clean and dry is essential.

Side-Effects and Future Considerations

While most incisional hernia surgeries have successful outcomes, there are potential side-effects and considerations for the future:

  1. Infection: There is a risk of wound infection post-surgery, which can be managed with antibiotics.
  2. Recurrence: Although rare, hernias can recur, especially if underlying risk factors are not addressed.
  3. Mesh-related Issues: In some cases, the mesh used to reinforce the abdominal wall may cause complications, such as discomfort or adhesions.
  4. Long-Term Lifestyle Changes: Addressing contributing factors like obesity and practicing proper lifting techniques can reduce the risk of hernia recurrence.

Incisional hernias can pose challenges to individuals who have previously undergone abdominal surgery. Understanding their causes, symptoms, and treatment options is essential for timely intervention and optimal recovery. If you suspect you have an incisional hernia or are experiencing symptoms, seeking medical attention is crucial. By addressing hernias promptly and making necessary lifestyle adjustments, individuals can minimize the impact of incisional hernias on their health and well-being, ensuring a brighter and healthier future.

If you are concerned that you may have an Incisional Hernia and any pain or discomfort you may have, our team will be more than happy to help and investigate your symptoms further. Please email us at or enquire online to learn more.