Conditions + Treatments

Inguinal Hernia

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What is an inguinal hernia?

An inguinal hernia, sometimes called a groin hernia, occurs when there is a weakness or opening in the lower abdominal muscle wall. Part of the abdominal contents, such as intestines, can push through this opening. Inguinal hernias occur in 2 percent of all children but are more common in boys than girls. They may occur on either side, but they are more frequent on the right side.

When a male fetus grows and matures during pregnancy, the testicles develop in the abdomen and then move down into the scrotum through an area called the inguinal canal. Shortly before the baby is born, the inguinal canal closes, preventing the testicles from moving back into the abdomen. If this area does not close off completely, a loop of intestine can move into the inguinal canal where it ends in the groin or it can continue going all the way into the scrotum and the sac surrounding the testicle.

Illustration of inguinal hernia into the canal and into the scrotum

The hernias are apparent only when there are contents from the abdominal cavity within the sac. In infants and children, the sac may not be apparent if contents from the abdominal cavity have not escaped from the abdomen into the sac, because the opening in the abdominal wall is too narrow. With development, the abdominal wall becomes stronger and can push contents through the opening into the sac, often dilating this opening.

Although girls do not have testicles, they do have an inguinal canal, so they can develop hernias as well. It is often the tube and ovary that fall into the hernia sac.

Occasionally, in both boys and girls, the loop of intestine that protrudes through a hernia may become stuck and cannot return to the abdominal cavity. If the intestinal loop cannot be gently pushed back into the abdominal cavity, that section of intestine may lose its blood supply. A good blood supply is necessary for the intestine to be healthy and function properly.

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