Symptoms & Signs

The signs and symptoms of a hernia can range from noticing a painless lump to the painful, tender, swollen protrusion of tissue that you are unable to push back into the abdomen (an incarcerated strangulated hernia).

Reducible Hernia

  • May appear as a new lump in the groin or other abdominal area.
  • May ache but is not tender when touched.
  • Sometimes pain precedes the discovery of the lump. The lump increases in size when standing or when abdominal pressure is increased (such as coughing).
  • May be reduced (pushed back into the abdomen) unless very large.

Irreducible Hernia

  • May be an occasionally painful enlargement of a previously reducible hernia that cannot be returned into the abdominal cavity on its own or when you push it.
  • Some may be chronic (occur over a long term) without pain. An irreducible hernia is also known as an incarcerated hernia. It can lead to strangulation of the intestine.
  • Signs and symptoms of bowel obstruction may occur, such as nausea and vomiting.

Strangulated Hernia

  • This is an irreducible hernia in which the entrapped intestine has its blood supply cut off.
  • Pain is always present, followed quickly by tenderness and sometimes symptoms of bowel obstruction (nausea and vomiting). The affected person may appear ill with or without fever. This condition is a surgical emergency.

All newly discovered hernias or symptoms that suggest you might have a hernia should prompt a visit to the doctor. Hernias, even those that ache, if they are not tender and easy to reduce (push back into the abdomen), are not necessarily surgical emergencies, but all have the potential to become serious.

Referral to a surgeon should generally be made so that the need for surgery can be established and the procedure can be performed as an elective surgery and avoid the risk of emergency surgery should your hernia become irreducible or strangulated.

If you find a new, painful, tender, and irreducible lump, it’s possible you may have an irreducible hernia, and you should have it checked in an emergency setting.

If you already have a hernia and it suddenly becomes painful, tender, and irreducible, you should also go to the emergency department.

Strangulation (cut off blood supply) of intestine within the hernia sac can lead to gangrenous (dead) bowel in as little as six hours. Not all irreducible hernias are strangulated, but they need to be evaluated.

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