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Hernia Surgery Benefits, Risks, and What to Expect

What Is Hernia Surgery?

A hernia is a bulge that forms when organs or tissue push through an opening or weak spot in nearby muscle walls. Most hernias form in your abdominal wall or groin area.

Over time, hernias can grow and become painful. You may feel discomfort or more pain with physical activity, or when you cough, sneeze, or stand up.

If your hernia becomes painful or gets in the way of your daily living, your doctor may advise surgery. Even if the hernia does not cause pain, surgery can be considered in some cases to prevent future complications. Hernia surgery pushes the organ or tissue back where it belongs and repairs the opening or weak spot in your muscle wall. Often, mesh may be recommended for hernia surgery and can be discussed with you doctor.

Sudden and severe hernia pain or tenderness can be a warning sign of a hernia sac that's stuck or strangulated. This is life-threatening, and you'll need emergency hernia surgery.

Other signs that you need emergency hernia surgery include:

  • A bulge that doesn't go back inside the abdomen as it once did.
  • A bulge that's suddenly larger.
  • Bloating.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Redness where the hernia is.

Hernia Surgery Benefits and Risks


Surgery is the best treatment for a painful hernia. It's the only way to get rid of it and the pain it causes.

Many hernias will eventually need surgery. If you wait too long, your hernia may grow larger and be harder to repair.

Certain factors, including smoking, diabetes, and being overweight increase your risk of complications after hernia surgery. You may not be a candidate for hernia surgery if these are health concerns for you, and you will need to discuss these with your surgeon.

Hernia surgery risks

Common risks and side effects soon after surgery include:

  • Bruising, or infection and bleeding at the incision site.
  • Problems with urinating if the hernia was in the groin.
  • Accumulation of fluid, called a seroma, at the prior site of the hernia.

Long-term risks and side effects include:

  • Chronic groin pain.
  • Problems with the mesh moving or breaking down.
  • Recurrence, or the hernia coming back.

Rare but serious risks and side effects include:

  • Complications related to anesthesia, including heart attack and stroke (these are not related specifically to hernia operations).
  • Injury to blood vessels and nearby organs, including your bladder and intestines.
  • Death.

Conditions We Treat with Hernia Surgery

At the Division of Trauma and General Surgery at UPMC, we treat several kinds of hernias with surgery, such as:

  • Incisional hernia.
  • Inguinal hernia.
  • Sports hernia and core muscle injuries.
  • Umbilical hernia.
  • Lumbar and flank hernias.

What to Expect Before, During, and After Hernia Surgery


Your doctor will do a physical exam. You may need tests to see if you're healthy enough for surgery and anesthesia.

Your surgeon's office will send you instructions to prep for your hernia surgery.

Read these at least a day before to find out:

  • If you can take certain drugs the morning of your hernia surgery. If you can, take them only with a sip of water. Let your doctor know all medicines and supplements you take so they can tell you which ones to stop taking.
  • When to stop eating and drinking the day before your surgery.
  • When to stop smoking if you smoke. Smoking increases the risk of your hernia repair failing and of infection after surgery. Your surgeon may require you to quit smoking at least four to six weeks before your surgery to improve your outcome.
  • When to take a shower and if you need to use an antibiotic soap.

During hernia surgery

To start the surgery, you'll receive some form of sedation, so you don't feel any pain during your hernia surgery.

To repair your hernia, your surgeon will:

  • Push the bulging tissue or organ back where it belongs.
  • Repair the weak spot or opening in your muscle.
  • Use surgical mesh to strengthen and cover the hernia defect in some cases.

There are two methods for hernia repair: open and minimally invasive (laparoscopic or robotic) hernia surgery.

Which one is best for you will depend on your hernia's type and size and risk factors from other health issues.

With both options, there's a chance the hernia can come back.

Open hernia surgery

Larger hernias often require open surgery.

Your surgeon makes one long cut in your groin or abdomen to see and repair your hernia.

You'll know ahead of time if a surgical mesh is needed. The mesh keeps a hernia from forming again in the same spot.

Minimally invasive hernia surgery

Your surgeon will make several small cuts in your abdomen and insert:

  • A tiny camera inside a hollow tube through one cut to see your hernia.
  • Special tools through other tubes and cuts to repair your hernia.

After surgery

Some hernia surgeries are outpatient procedures, and people go home that same day. You may need to stay in the hospital if you have problems or if your hernia is large.

With both surgery types, you may feel pain or soreness for the first 72 hours post-op. You can often manage it with over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen if your hernia was small or in the groin.

Most people have less pain after minimally invasive hernia surgery versus open.

What to expect after hernia surgery depends on the method your surgeon used.

Before you go home, your care team will tell you how to care for your incision and yourself after hernia surgery.

For larger hernias, you may require a small drainage tube for a short period of time after the surgery.

Hernia surgery recovery

Each person is unique.

How long it takes you to recover after hernia surgery will vary based on factors such as:

  • The size of your hernia.
  • The type of hernia surgery you had. Most people recover faster after minimally invasive surgery than they do after open hernia surgery.
  • Your age and overall health.

Your surgeon will give you specific post-op instructions and advise you when you can resume strenuous exercise or activity.

You will likely be able to resume light activity in the days after the operation.

Your surgeon will also tell you when they want to see you again to make sure you're healing properly. Be sure to make a follow-up appointment within that time frame.

Contact UPMC About Hernia Surgery

To make an appointment, contact a location near you. Or call 1-866-629-8077 if you need help.

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