What Are the Signs of Inguinal Hernia Complications?

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Spotting Inguinal Hernia Complications in Children: A Parent’s Guide

Inguinal hernias, though often manageable, can disrupt daily life in a significant way. When a child is diagnosed with an inguinal hernia, it can be a stressful and worrying time for parents. The potential discomfort their child might experience, the limitations it could place on their activities, and the fear of complications are all valid concerns. More importantly, leaving this condition untreated raises the risk of serious inguinal hernia complications like incarceration and strangulation. However, these complications can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.

In this article will discuss the signs of inguinal hernia complications, how they occur, and the steps to take if you suspect you are experiencing complications.

What is Inguinal Hernia?

It occurs when part of the abdominal contents pushes through a weak area in the lower abdominal wall near the groin. This can happen in either of the inguinal canals, located on each side of the groin, or in the deeper femoral canals, leading to a femoral hernia.

Inguinal hernias typically involve either fat or a portion of the small intestine. In females, an inguinal hernia might contain part of the reproductive system, such as an ovary. When a hernia occurs, part of the peritoneum can bulge through the abdominal wall, creating a sac around the hernia.

Inguinal hernias often develop on one side of the groin, with the right side being more commonly affected than the left. People who have an inguinal hernia on one side may also experience it on the other side, either simultaneously or later on.

Who Does Inguinal Hernia Affect?

Inguinal hernias may occur in a huge number of people in general. However, some of them are more likely to have those due to certain factors that result directly from this. Here’s who might be more likely to develop an inguinal hernia:

Babies and Young Children

Congenital inguinal hernias can occur when the inguinal canal fails to close completely during fetal development. It is a factor that persists at the time of birth and is more prevalent among male babies.


Men have a higher chance of inguinal hernia than women due to their inguinal canal anatomy, in which the spermatic cord tube has a natural opening.

Older Adults

As we age, the muscles in our abdominal wall tend to weaken, making hernias more likely.

People with a Family History

Family history is an essential factor in determining the risk of inguinal hernia. Thus, if someone in your close family has had an inguinal hernia, your risk is higher, too.

Those Who Cough or Strain Frequently

Coughing that lasts for longer than two weeks, including coughing as a consequence of smoking or repeated straining during bowel movements, can lead to extra pressure on the abdominal wall.

Pregnant Women

Pregnancy often brings various changes to a woman’s body. As the female abdomen expands to make enough space for the fetus, there is a risk of developing hernias.

Classification Of Inguinal Hernia

There are two types of inguinal hernia.

Direct inguinal hernia

A direct inguinal hernia is developed when the abdominal contents come out by the side of a weakened inguinal canal. This type of hernia typically develops in adults over time, often due to a combination of weakened abdominal muscles and chronic pressure on the muscle wall.

Indirect inguinal hernia

In the case of the indirect inguinal hernia, intestines or other abdominal content may enter the inguinal canal up through its upper part. This kind of hernia is usually caused by a congenital defect that appears at birth. In certain circumstances, when the baby is going through the developmental phase in the uterus, the opening of the inguinal canal does not close as it should, and the child can be at risk of developing a hernia later in life.

Signs of Inguinal Hernia Complications

Although the majority of inguinal hernias do not lead to complications, it is essential to be aware of conditions in which hernias become complicated. These complications are often severe, so an emergency response is needed. The significant complications of inguinal hernia are total incarceration and strangulation.


Incarceration is a phenomenon where the herniated tissue enters the inguinal canal and is unable to push back to the abdominal cavity. This situation can cause a variety of signs and symptoms, including:

  • Severe pain: Intermittent pain, usually a strong localized pain at the groin, below the umbilicus, or in the testicles, may indicate an incarcerated hernia.
  • Nausea and vomiting: The herniated hernia often produces symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, which may be caused by tissue blockage.
  • Inability to move the hernia: Incarcerated hernias usually become hard and painful to touch. Because of this firmness, it will be challenging to push them back into the abdominal cavity.


A hernia is classified as strangulation when the blood supply carrying nutrients to the herniated part is cut off by the constriction. Thus leading to acute tissue ischemia. The absence of oxygen in the bloodstream may lead to tissue death and require immediate medical intervention. Signs of strangulation include:

  • Sudden, intense pain: Being strangled may produce a sharp and immediate pain that can worsen rapidly.
  • Redness and swelling: Such hernia may change into reddish, swollen, and tender because of lack of blood supply
  • Rapid progression: Strangulation results in the rapid deterioration of the affected tissue, which leads to signs of tissue death, such as discolouration.
  • Fever: An infected hernia can result in a fever, signalling the body’s response to the lack of blood flow and potential tissue damage.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Like incarceration, strangulation can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

Other Potential Complications

In addition to incarceration and strangulation, other less common inguinal hernia complications are as follows.

  • Obstruction: If the herniated tissues are part of the intestine, they can result in obstruction of the bowel, which causes sharp abdomen pain, bloating, and constipation.
  • Chronic pain: Sometimes, even after repairing the hernia, inguinal hernias may persist as constant aches due to nerve damage or other issues.
  • Hernia recurrence: Although hernia repair is usually successful, the hernia might reappear, which may lead to some unwanted complications.

What to Do if You Suspect Complications

If you suspect that you might be the victim of this particular type of hernia, it is of the utmost importance to see your doctor as soon as possible. Early intervention is effective in avoiding complications and achieving better outcomes.

Diagnosing Inguinal Hernia

In some cases, healthcare providers may conduct diagnostic tests such as ultrasound or abdominal X-ray to determine the extent of the hernia.

Treatment Options for Inguinal Hernia

  • Surgical Repair

The surgeon performs open hernia surgery by creating an incision in the groin area. During this procedure, surgeons bring the hernia out through the incision to repair the tear. They typically use stitching to repair most hernias and fit a mesh onto the weakened area of the abdominal wall. The mesh tightens the location of the incision where the hernial tissue bulges through and lowers the possibility of reoccurrence.

Surgeons commonly administer local anesthetics along with sedatives to keep patients at ease and protected from pain throughout open hernia surgery. However, in certain situations, doctors might administer general anesthesia or a spinal block to prevent sensation from the waist down and ensure patient comfort during the surgery.

  • Laparoscopic Surgery

Pediatric surgeons may sometimes opt for minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery to repair hernias. This approach includes making small incisions and using a tiny camera and specialised instruments to perform the repair. Laparoscopic surgery often results in faster recovery times and more minor scars.


Inguinal hernia complications can be severe and require immediate medical attention. Knowing the signs of complications such as incarceration and strangulation is essential for prompt intervention and prevention of further issues. If you suspect you are experiencing complications from an inguinal hernia, do not hesitate to seek medical help because early treatment can prevent further damage and improve your overall prognosis.