Inguinal hernias are one of the most common reasons a primary care patient may need referral for surgical intervention. The history and physical examination are usually sufficient to make the diagnosis. Symptomatic patients often have groin pain, which can sometimes be severe. Inguinal hernias may cause a burning, gurgling, or aching sensation in the groin, and a heavy or dragging sensation may worsen toward the end of the day and after prolonged activity. An abdominal bulge may disappear when the patient is in the prone position. Examination involves feeling for a bulge or impulse while the patient coughs or strains. Although imaging is rarely warranted, ultrasonography or magnetic resonance imaging can help diagnose a hernia in an athlete without a palpable impulse or bulge on physical examination. Ultrasonography may also be indicated with a recurrent hernia or suspected hydrocele, when the diagnosis is uncertain, or if there are surgical complications. Although most hernias are repaired, surgical intervention is not always necessary, such as with a small, minimally symptomatic hernia. If repair is necessary, the patient should be counseled about whether an open or laparoscopic technique is best. Surgical complications and hernia recurrences are uncommon. However, a patient with a recurrent hernia should be referred to the original surgeon, if possible.
Copyright © 2013 American Academy of Family Physicians.