Reasons Not to Delay Your Hernia Repair

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Male doctor performing abdominal ultrasound on male patient

Hernias will not go away by themselves. Surgery is the only way to repair a hernia. A hernia repair returns the organ or structure to its proper place and fixes the weakened area of muscle or tissue.

Having surgery is a big decision. It can be tempting to put it off, and that may be okay in some cases. Before you decide, make sure you understand the risks and benefits of your decision. Here are some things to consider and discuss with the doctor who is helping you make the decision.

How Is the Hernia Affecting You?

The first thing to consider is whether or not you are experiencing symptoms. Not everyone has symptoms with a hernia, especially small ones. When symptoms occur, the most common one is pain. Others can include a feeling of heaviness or fullness in the belly or groin. Whether you have symptoms or not, a hernia can also interfere with your leisure activities and your work. So you also need to recognize if you are taking time off from work or interests due to your hernia.

Delaying surgery may mean you spend more time away from work and fun instead of returning to activities after recovery.

If you have symptoms, especially pain, your doctor is likely to recommend surgery. But what if you don’t have symptoms or they are minimal? In this case, your doctor may recommend watchful waiting. Before you agree to watchful waiting, be sure your doctor knows the whole story. Be honest about any limitations your hernia puts on your time and activities.

What Are the Risks of Waiting?

1. Hernias can become incarcerated. One potentially serious risk of not fixing a hernia is that it can become trapped outside the abdominal wall—or incarcerated. This can cut off the blood supply to the hernia and obstruct the bowel, resulting in a strangulated hernia. This requires urgent surgical repair. Not all hernias progress to this point, but it is a risk nonetheless. Avoiding an emergency situation that you can’t control is one reason to consider not delaying surgery.

2. Hernias grow. A more likely scenario is that your hernia will continue to grow and weaken with time. This is likely to increase your symptoms, including pain, and cause more changes to your lifestyle. Surgeons know that smaller hernias are easier to repair than larger hernias. Going ahead with surgery instead of delaying it can prevent your symptoms from getting worse. It can also help you avoid losing work or missing activities.

3. Hernias require surgery eventually. Even if you aren’t having symptoms, you may still want to consider having surgery sooner rather than later. Surgery for a hernia is somewhat inevitable in most cases. Research shows that most people with hernias have surgery within 10 years. Keep in mind that delaying surgery until your hernia is larger and the muscles are weaker may make surgery and recovery more difficult. 

4. Your overall health may change. Your age may determine whether waiting is a risk for you. Putting off surgery for years down the road may mean you are not in as good overall health or physical shape. This will also affect your surgery and recovery. So having surgery at a younger age can be beneficial. However, if you are elderly (older than about 75 years of age), not very active, and your hernia isn’t causing problems, it may be better to not fix it. The risks of surgery may outweigh the benefit of repair.

Making the Decision

Surgery is never convenient and life is always busy. Being in control of when you have surgery is a huge benefit of not delaying your hernia repair. You can schedule your surgery at your convenience. And if you are a candidate for laparoscopic hernia surgery, you’ll be back to life and work sooner than in years past. Surgery should be easier on you and recovery will likely be smoother at a younger age and with a smaller hernia. Ultimately, your doctor is best able to help you decide whether watchful waiting or surgery is the best option for you.

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  1. Fitzgibbons RJ Jr, Giobbie-Hurder A, Gibbs JO, Dunlop DD, Reda DJ, et al. Watchful waiting vs repair of inguinal hernia in minimally symptomatic men: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2006 Jan 18;295(3):285-92.
  2. Hernias. The Nemours Foundation.
  3. Inguinal Hernias — Watch or Repair? NEJM Journal Watch, Massachusetts Medical Society.
  4. Watchful Waiting Doesn't Pay for Asymptomatic Inguinal Hernias. ACS Surgery News.
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 3
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