If you’ve received a ventral hernia diagnosis, you might be tempted to leave it alone and avoid ventral hernia repair surgery – especially if you are not experiencing any discomfort or pain.
However, ignoring a ventral hernia for too long can become dangerous. Hernias don’t go away on their own, and they usually worsen over time, eventually becoming emergent. That’s why early intervention is critical.
Keep reading to learn more about the dangers of ignoring a ventral hernia and warning signs to look out for.
Understanding Ventral Hernia
Ventral hernias are fairly common, with about 350,000 repair surgeries occurring annually. Part of the reason they’re so prevalent is that there are several different types of ventral hernias.
The broad definition of a ventral hernia is a bulge of the intestine or abdominal tissue that breaks through the central abdominal muscle. The hernia’s specific location determines what type of ventral hernia it is. There are three main options:
- Epigastric: Epigastric hernias appear in the upper central abdomen, specifically between the chest and the belly button.
- Incisional: Incisional hernias occur at the site of a prior surgical incision. This hernia type is only considered a ventral hernia if the incision is in the middle of the abdomen. It occurs in about 15-20% of patients who have had a laparotomy (abdominal surgery).
- Umbilical: Umbilical hernias emerge at the belly button. While most common in infants, umbilical hernias can occur in women during or after pregnancy and in clinically obese adults.
No matter the type, ventral hernias typically occur due to increased or prolonged pressure on the abdominal wall. For example, strenuous activities like lifting can put pressure on the abdomen, eventually resulting in a hernia. Health factors like obesity, diabetes, and smoking can also weaken the abdomen walls and increase the likelihood of a ventral hernia.
Ventral hernias also become more common as people age. The abdominal muscles naturally weaken over time, making it easy for the intestine or tissue to push through.
Umbilical hernias are a bit unique since they are most common in infants. However, umbilical hernias still total 6-14% of adult abdominal wall hernias. While things like obesity and age can cause umbilical hernias, they often occur in women who are or have been pregnant. The abdominal muscles expand during pregnancy and can separate, causing diastasis recti. That opening then makes it easy for an umbilical hernia to appear since the muscles are no longer protecting the belly button.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
Regardless of the type or cause of a ventral hernia, they can present uncomfortable symptoms that worsen over time.
A ventral hernia’s most common initial symptom is a lump or bulge in the central abdomen. This lump may only appear when straining the abdominal muscles (i.e., sitting up, exercising, coughing, or laughing). Still, it can become a constant presence over time as more of the intestine pushes through.
The appearance of a lump might be the only symptom for a while, which is why many people put off ventral hernia repair in Orange County, CA. However, the symptoms gradually worsen. Common warning signs include the following:
- Pain on or around the lump
- A bulge that can’t be pushed back into the abdomen (non-reducible hernia)
- Redness around the hernia
These symptoms show that the hernia is becoming more serious and needs prompt medical attention. While not yet emergent, those symptoms require a consult with a hernia specialist about repair options before it worsens.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention as they are signs of life-threatening hernia complications:
- Severe vomiting and nausea
- Sudden, worsening pain
- Inability to urinate or pass a bowel
- Purple or dark red skin on the hernia
Potential Dangers of Ignoring a Ventral Hernia
Even if a ventral hernia seems harmless, ignoring it can lead to severe complications.
As mentioned above, a worsening symptom of a ventral hernia is that it can’t be pushed back into the abdomen. This is called a non-reducible or incarcerated hernia.
While reducible hernias may only appear during strenuous activities, an incarcerated hernia is always present. That means a part of the intestinal tract is trapped outside the abdominal wall. An incarcerated hernia is not yet considered emergent but can cause pain and discomfort.
Common side effects of an incarcerated hernia include bowel obstruction, pain, and nausea. If left untreated, an incarcerated ventral hernia can become emergent and life-threatening.
A strangulated hernia occurs when an incarcerated hernia becomes cut off and loses blood flow. This is an emergent situation, as that part of the intestine will die without blood flow. And once that part dies, the intestine can send fatal toxins to the rest of the body.
Signs of a strangulated hernia include purple or dark skin, intense pain, and extreme nausea. A hernia specialist must treat it immediately to avoid life-threatening complications.
While extremely rare, a ventral hernia can rupture and cause potentially fatal complications. For example, a hernia rupture can cause peritonitis, bowel incarceration, and sepsis.
Hernia repair surgeries are largely safe and successful, but the mortality rate is much higher (60-80%) after an operation to repair a ruptured hernia. That’s all the more reason to repair a ventral hernia well before becoming at risk of strangulation or rupture.
A less emergent – but still undesirable – result of ignoring a ventral hernia is chronic pain and discomfort. Even if the hernia never becomes strangulated, a reducible or incarcerated ventral hernia can cause consistent pain that affects daily life.
For example, an incarcerated hernia can affect digestive health and cause constipation. It can be painful when the bowel movement passes through that part of the intestine caught outside the abdominal wall.
Medical and Daily Life Complications
Living with an untreated ventral hernia can cause digestive problems. Not only can that be painful, but it can cause constipation – which then puts more strain on the abdomen, potentially worsening the hernia.
Living with a hernia also limits mobility since patients must avoid any strenuous activities. These include abdominal exercises like sit-ups and crunches, plus simple things like lifting objects over 15 pounds. Even something as common as coughing and laughing can provoke pain and increase the risk of a strangulated hernia.
With limited exercise capabilities, patients may begin to feel self-conscious or even depressed. They may also struggle with the physical aspect of a hernia. Once a ventral hernia becomes incarcerated, it is often visible even through clothing. This can lower self-esteem and prompt social anxiety. Plus, the weight of worrying about potential complications can cause constant stress.
Importance of Timely Medical Intervention
With so many potential complications, the best option is to schedule a hernia repair in Orange County, CA, as early as possible. Not only does early intervention help prevent more severe problems, but it also increases the probability of a successful recovery.
Early detection and intervention also widen the surgical options. Many emergency hernia repairs require open surgery due to complications, resulting in a more prolonged and painful recovery. However, taking early action means patients can often opt for minimally invasive procedures like laparoscopy or a single-incision robotic surgery. These options leave minimal scarring and take much less time to heal.
Ventral hernias may seem inoffensive, especially in their early stages. However, they can quickly become much more serious, leading to painful and even life-threatening conditions.
That’s why timely medical intervention is critical. Whether you already have a ventral hernia diagnosis or think you may have a hernia, speak with a hernia repair specialist in Orange County, CA, as soon as possible. Together, you can develop a plan of action to repair the hernia and continue your normal activities before dealing with any potential complications.
To find out if inguinal hernia repair surgery is right for you, Contact Orange County General Robotic Surgery at (714) 706-1257 for a consultation with Dr. Abtin H. Khosravi.