Ask Dr. Marla: Hernias

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My daughter, six, has a hernia in the groin area. How common is this and what are the dangers associated with waiting for the surgery? Can anything go wrong during surgery? My husband says I’m a fatalist, but I’d like to be prepared for the worst.

MARLA: A hernia happens when there is a weakness in the abdominal wall, and tissue or an organ such as part of the bowel protrudes through. The weakness in the wall can be something your child was born with or it can be acquired. Common sites of hernias can include umbilical hernias or inguinal hernias (groin area).
The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto points out that hernias happen in about five percent of Canadian children and inguinal hernias account for nearly eighty percent of all hernias. Your child’s hernia was not caused by lifting or physical activity, but existed from birth. While th
is kind of groin hernia is far more common in boys, it is also seen in girls. In boys, testicles develop in the abdomen and then come down through an opening low in the abdomen into the scrotum. This opening should fully close, but when it doesn’t a hernia can result. In girls, a hernia can result in the groin area as well.

Hernias will not get better without intervention. All hernias need to be repaired surgically. If they are not treated, an abdominal organ can get trapped in the opening, have its blood supply cut off and cause damage to the organ. This is the reason that you are strongly encouraged to go forward with surgery. In general, parents should go to their doctor as soon as a lump is noted. The complications of a trapped or incarcerated hernia can result in significant damage and can even put your child in a life-threatening situation.

The overall complication rate of the surgery itself can be influenced by the state of the hernia itself. For example, an incarcerated hernia may have existing damage to the trapped organ. As with any surgery, complications can include a hematoma (a collection of blood), wound infections or nerve damage. The risk of recurrence of the hernia is fairly low. Do see your doctor and discuss the specific surgery and risks for your daughter.

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