Harvard Men's Health Watch

Hernias: New options for management

It used to be easy, if unpleasant. A man noticed a bulge in his groin, his doctor diagnosed it as a hernia, and a surgeon was asked to repair it. This 1-2-3 approach was simple and straightforward, but it has given way to a more complex strategy. There are still three steps to consider, but now each is a question: Should the hernia be repaired? Which repair is best? And, what type of anesthesia should be used?

Men who prefer the good old way can let their doctors proceed in a 1-2-3 fashion. But other gents should first understand the anatomy of a hernia, then grapple with the pros and cons of each decision.

What is a hernia?

Like so many medical terms, we owe the name hernia to the Greeks, who first used the root word to mean a sprout or the protruding bud of a plant. Although the term originally described any abnormal or unsightly bulge, it is now used when one of the body's structures protrudes through an abnormal opening in the body's tissue. As such, hernias can develop in many regions of the body (see "Other hernias"), but for most men, the term is shorthand for a groin (inguinal) hernia. It's understandable since inguinal hernias are so common in males; in fact, a man has a 27% chance of developing one at some time in his life.

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