A hernia occurs when an organ, intestine or fatty tissue squeezes through a hole or a weak spot in the surrounding muscle or connective tissue. Hernias often occur at the abdominal wall. Sometimes a hernia can be visible as an external bulge particularly when straining or bearing down.
The most common types of hernias are:
Most hernias are caused by a combination of pressure and an opening or weakness of muscle or connective tissue. The pressure pushes an organ or tissue through the opening or weak spot. Sometimes the muscle weakness is present at birth but more often it occurs later in life. Anything that causes an increase in abdominal pressure can cause a hernia, including obesity, lifting heavy objects, diarrhea or constipation, or persistent coughing or sneezing. Poor nutrition, smoking, and overexertion can weaken muscles and contribute to the likelihood of a hernia.
Hernia repairs are common—more than one million hernia repairs are performed each year in the U.S. Approximately 800,000 are to repair inguinal hernias and the rest are for other types of hernias.1
Hernias have a high rate of recurrence, and surgeons often use surgical mesh to strengthen the hernia repair and reduce the rate of recurrence. Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in mesh-based hernia repairs—by 2000, non-mesh repairs represented less than 10% of groin hernia repair techniques.
The use of surgical mesh may also improve patient outcomes through decreased operative time and minimized recovery time. However, recovery time depends on the type of hernia, the surgical approach, and the patient’s condition both before and after surgery.
Information found in medical literature has consistently demonstrated a reduced hernia recurrence rate when surgical mesh is used to repair the hernia compared to hernia repair without surgical mesh. For example, inguinal hernia recurrence is higher with open repair using sutures (primary closure) than with mesh repair2.
Despite reduced rates of recurrence, there are situations where the use of surgical mesh for hernia repair may not be recommended. Patients should talk to their surgeons about their specific circumstances and their best options and alternatives for hernia repair.