A common side effect of inguinal and umbilical hernia surgery is swelling. For most hernia repair patients, swelling is normal and nothing to worry about. In extremely rare cases, swelling can indicate infection, repair failure, or something more serious.
Patients can minimize the risk of abnormal swelling and other complications by carefully following all post-operative directions provided in their treatment plan. This guide offers an in-depth explanation of why stomach swelling occurs after hernia surgery and strategies patients can use to avoid complications.
Why Does Swelling Occur During Hernia Surgery Recovery
Swelling is the body’s dramatic and unattractive reaction to surgery or trauma. During the hernia repair procedure, the surgeon makes incisions in multiple layers of skin and muscles before manipulating the gut and abdominal contents (bulge) back into their proper place. Opening the abdominal cavity exposes it to air.
Air is often added to the cavity to make it large enough for the surgeon to perform the repair. Before closing the repair site, the surgeon removes as much air as possible. Some air remains trapped inside the abdominal cavity and can only be released naturally during the recovery period. Staples, sutures, or a special surgical adhesive are used to close the repair site.
Hernia surgery causes bruising and discoloration too. Surgical trauma triggers inflammation that increases blood circulation and the production of white blood cells and fluid to the hernia repair site. Surgery also triggers other immune system reactions, such as bruising and discoloration.
How Long Does Swelling Last
Normally, patients can expect to see the most significant reduction in overall swelling in the first few weeks of the recovery stage. Excess fluid accumulation, daily habits, poor diet, underlying health issues, and the type, size, and extent of the repair are several of many factors that can affect the time it takes post-surgery swelling to subside.
Hernia Surgery Swelling Complications
Swelling that occurs with or without an increase in pain, discoloration, or discomfort one year after surgery may require further medical intervention to resolve. Swelling and inflammation are not exclusive to the hernia site. These symptoms can also affect the tissues and muscles in the groin and genital areas. Swelling that extends into the groin and genital areas is common in large inguinal hernia repair patients and can take up to a year or longer to fully resolve.
Gravity pulls everything downward, the fluids in the body are no exception. The effects of gravity on the body can cause an increase in discomfort and swelling. Sensations of fullness and pressure in the stomach, shoulder, and chest areas are common and may persist until the trapped air from the procedure works its way out of the body. Patients may benefit from taking antacids to reduce the discomfort but should get proper clearance from the surgeon first.
Patients should monitor their hernia repairs for swelling and report their concerns or any of the following issues to the doctor for immediate assessment and treatment.
- Hard lumps
- Burning pain
- Numbness and decreased sensitivity
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sexual dysfunction
- Excess fatigue or lethargy
These symptoms do not always indicate serious problems. However, swelling or stomach bulges that become more pronounced or last longer than six months may require closer monitoring and some post-operative activity adjustments.
Reducing Hernia Swelling After Surgery
While some swelling is common, there are actions patients can take to minimize the amount of stomach distention and discomfort after hernia surgery.
Maintain a healthy diet
Eat more fruits and vegetables. Avocados, berries, cucumbers, ginger, and bananas are full of nutrients and vitamins that help prevent gas and bloating. Steer clear of artificial sweeteners, spicy and greasy foods, soda, and dairy products, they are common culprits of bloating and abdominal pain.
Move the bowels regularly
Healthy bowel function is important in preventing gas, discomfort, and an increase in your stomach/abdomen size. Surgery, anesthesia, and medications can slow down the digestive system and bowels and cause constipation. Frequent bowel movements mean less trapped gas and discomfort. Stool softeners can help restore proper bowel function and prevent constipation.
Walk and stay active
Maintaining some level of light to moderate physical activity after hernia repair is one of the most effective ways to support the healing process and boost muscle strength and flexibility to minimize complications. Patients should avoid activities and movements that stress, strain, or irritate the muscles and tissues of the repair site. They should also listen to their bodies to avoid overexertion.
Get sufficient rest
Rest is a critical component of healing. It allows the body to repair itself with minimal environmental/outside interference.
Follow recovery instructions
Before discharge, hernia repair patients receive custom post-operative care guidelines to use during their recovery. Compliance is crucial in minimizing the risk of hernia repair failure and reoccurrence.
Go to all follow-up appointments
Routine post-operative medical visits are necessary to ensure the hernia is healing as it should and to identify and correct potential concerns that may impede recovery.
Use an abdominal support
Bloating and swelling are not appealing visually or physically. To reduce the amount of post-operative swelling and bloating, patients can use abdominal support binders, scrotum support belts, compression garments, and pillows.
Use proper body mechanics and breathing techniques
Movement and breathing require the use of muscles and tissues that are sore from surgery. Using proper breathing techniques and body movements help condition the muscles while they heal to reduce pain and shrink the abdomen and stomach areas.
If you experience an increase in pain or swelling or have other concerns about hernia surgery, don’t hesitate to contact us. In extremely rare cases, severe swelling can develop after hernia surgery and may require additional treatment. Hernias that redevelop may respond to alternative hernia repair options. A consultation with our surgeon can help you make the most informed treatment decisions regarding your situation.