What is an Incarcerated Inguinal Hernia?

J.M. Willhite

An incarcerated inguinal hernia is a condition in which the position of herniated intestinal tissue compromises blood flow. Considered a hernial complication, an incarcerated inguinal hernia poses serious risk to one’s health and can lead to significant complications. Treatment for an incarcerated inguinal hernia often necessitates surgery to restore the compromised tissue to its anatomical position.

A surgeon repositions the intestinal tissue and closes the abdominal tear to treat an incarcerated inguinal hernia.
A surgeon repositions the intestinal tissue and closes the abdominal tear to treat an incarcerated inguinal hernia.

Normally, an inguinal hernia may be diagnosed during a physical and palpatory exam of the groin area. The individual is usually instructed to cough, which places strain on the groin muscles, allowing for the hernia to become visible. Symptoms indicating an incarcerated inguinal hernia usually prompt additional imaging tests, including ultrasound. Imaging tests allow for a better assessment of the extent of herniation and the condition of the tissues involved.

An incarcerated inguinal hernia may cause abdominal discomfort.
An incarcerated inguinal hernia may cause abdominal discomfort.

An inguinal hernia occurs when weakened abdominal tissue ruptures, allowing for the protrusion of intestinal tissue into the groin. Whether the hernia is congenital or due to injury, surgery is usually performed to restore the intestinal tissue to its normal position and repair the abdominal tear. Herniated tissues are considered incarcerated when the tissue becomes trapped in the tear and inflamed, which threatens proper blood circulation and tissue health.

An inguinal hernia may be diagnosed during a physical and palpatory exam of the groin area.
An inguinal hernia may be diagnosed during a physical and palpatory exam of the groin area.

Intestinal tissue that is deemed incarcerated requires surgery to prevent organ damage and complication. An incarcerated hernia can quickly progress to become strangulated, eventually contributing to necrosis, or tissue death. If strangulation occurs, the affected areas must be excised to prevent further damage.

Surgery may be required to treat a hernia.
Surgery may be required to treat a hernia.

Aside from the lump herniated tissue creates, signs and symptoms of an inguinal hernia can vary depending on severity. Some people may describe a feeling of pressure in the affected area, while others may experience burning or achiness. The herniated tissue usually causes some degree of discomfort and, sometimes, a sensation of weakness. When herniated intestinal tissue becomes incarcerated, one’s symptoms generally worsen to include nausea, abdominal discomfort, and fever. In some instances, individuals may also experience a disruption to their bowel habits marked by pronounced constipation and cramping.

Some patients suffering from an incarcerated inguinal hernia may experience burning and pressure in the affected area.
Some patients suffering from an incarcerated inguinal hernia may experience burning and pressure in the affected area.

Once an incarcerated inguinal hernia is discovered, the individual is usually prepped for immediate surgery. When blood circulation to herniated tissue is compromised, it is merely a matter of time before the affected tissues begin to deteriorate. During surgery, the attending surgeon repositions the intestinal tissue and closes the abdominal tear. In most cases, a mesh material is positioned over the weakened abdominal tissue as reinforcement to help prevent future tears.

An ultrasound may be performed if a patient has symptoms that indicate the presence of an incarcerated inguinal hernia.
An ultrasound may be performed if a patient has symptoms that indicate the presence of an incarcerated inguinal hernia.

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