Talking With Your Doctor About Hernia Repair
Hernias can occur in any area of your belly. The most common sites are in the groin, at the belly button, or at a previous surgical incision site.
Some people with hernias don’t have any symptoms. In this case, watchful waiting may be an option. Without surgery, however, the hernia will likely grow larger over time. Sometimes, a segment of intestine can become trapped—incarcerated—outside your abdominal wall. This can cut off the blood supply, resulting in a strangulated hernia. This requires urgent surgical repair. Symptoms of an incarcerated hernia include:
Your doctor can tailor your treatment plan to your specific condition. Shared decision making with your doctor starts with a conversation. Here are topics to bring up with your doctor that will help him or her decide the best course of treatment—for you.
Describe Your Symptoms
Your doctor will want to know if you experience symptoms with your hernia. Symptoms will depend on the specific type of hernia you have. Pain is a common symptom for most hernias. Keep a symptom diary and record how long you’ve been feeling them and if they have changed or gotten worse. Try to describe your symptoms, especially your pain, in detail. For example, is your pain sharp or dull? Does it get worse when you stand, bend over, strain or cough? Mention if you have other symptoms, such as a feeling of fullness or pressure in your belly or groin.
Your doctor will also want to know if your symptoms have changed your daily life and your quality of life. For example, are you modifying your activity level or the specific activities you engage in because of the hernia? This type of information will help your doctor understand the impact of your condition on your physical and mental health.
Explore Your Treatment Options
Surgery is the only way to repair a hernia. But not every hernia needs repairing. Small hernias that don’t cause symptoms may not require surgery. In this case your doctor may recommend watchful waiting. Your doctor may consider a hernia repair if watchful waiting is not an option for you.
The types of hernia repair procedures include:
- Mesh repairs use a synthetic mesh patch to cover and strengthen the weakened area of muscle or tissue.
- Suture repairs use stitches to strengthen the tissues around the weakened area.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these methods. Ask your doctor why he or she thinks a certain treatment is right for you. Ask about the risks and complications, too. Make sure you understand the recovery time and what to do if your hernia recurs. Having a plan may help you feel better.
Talk About Lifestyle Habits
Hernia surgery will not prevent hernias from coming back. Your doctor will want to know about your lifestyle habits and it’s important to be honest. Your lifestyle habits can help prevent or delay recurrence of hernias. You’ll also want to be upfront about what is going on in your life and your ability to make changes if necessary.
The changes you can make in everyday life to help prevent another hernia include:
- Avoiding constipation and chronic straining
- Avoiding sudden strains, pulls or twists of your belly or torso
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Eating a high-fiber diet
- Getting regular exercise including strengthening the muscles of your core and belly (as directed by your doctor)
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking