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Abdominal hernias that result from congenital defects or physical injuries can be very painful and in some cases debilitating. Medications can help ease some of a patient's symptoms, but abdominal hernia surgery is almost always necessary to repair and reinforce the damaged abdominal wall. There are several different techniques for abdominal hernia surgery, and surgeons are careful to choose the best procedures based on patients' specific conditions. Most operations are performed laparoscopically through a series of small incisions, but a severe or deep hernia may require open surgery.
When a doctor diagnoses an abdominal hernia, he or she typically refers the patient to a specialty surgeon for a consultation. The surgeon can review symptoms, identify the exact location of the bulge, and explain the different types of abdominal hernia surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is usually preferred over open surgery whenever possible, as it is less invasive and carries a lower risk of complications. In most cases, either operation typically can be performed in less than two hours in an outpatient surgical center.
On the day of laparoscopic abdominal hernia surgery, a patient is usually sedated with a general anesthesia. The surgeon makes small incisions around the area of the hernia in the lower abdomen. A tiny camera, the laparoscope, is inserted through one of the cuts and guided to the location of the bulge. The camera feed is transmitted to a monitor in the operating room to help the surgeon conduct the procedure.
With the laparoscope in place, the surgeon can manipulate precision instruments through the other cuts to push bulging tissue back into place. A mesh made of synthetic plastic and metal material is fitted into place over the weak spot in the abdominal wall, and surrounding tissue is sutured together to fortify the wall. Tools and the laparoscope are then removed and the surgical scars are stitched and treated with antibiotics.
The principles of abdominal hernia surgery are essentially the same, but instead of making many small cuts the surgeon creates a single long incision in the lower abdomen. Skin, fat, and muscle tissue are held apart with clamps to expose the underlying hernia. The surgeon moves herniated tissue back into alignment and secures abdominal wall tissue with stitches and synthetic mesh.
Following either type of procedure, the patient is brought to a recovery room until he or she regains consciousness. Nurses provide wound care and painkillers as necessary in the recovery room. A patient is usually allowed to go home within a few hours of the operation after receiving important instructions from the surgeon. To give abdominal tissue adequate time to heal, patients are usually told to avoid intensive physical activity and lifting for one to three months. By following surgeons' instructions and attending regular checkups, most people experience full recoveries within six months of abdominal hernia surgery.