What is abdominal hernia repair?

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Abdominal hernia repair surgery: Overview

An abdominal hernia repair is a type of surgery. It fixes a problem called a hernia. A hernia is a bulge under the skin in your belly. It happens when you have a weak spot in your belly muscles and a piece of your intestines or tissues pokes through your muscles. This can cause pain. You may notice the pain most when you lift something heavy.

You can have a hernia near your belly button. Or it may be in a scar from an earlier surgery. To fix it, the doctor will do one of two kinds of surgery. In open surgery, the doctor makes one cut near the hernia. This cut is called an incision. In laparoscopic surgery, the doctor makes several very small incisions and uses a thin, lighted scope and small tools. In either type of surgery, the doctor pushes the bulge back in place, if needed. Then the doctor sews the healthy tissue back together. Often the doctor patches the weak spot with a piece of material.

Laparoscopic surgery leaves several small scars. Open surgery leaves one long scar. The scars fade with time.

You will probably need to take 1 to 2 weeks off from work. But if your job requires heavy lifting or other physical work, you may need to take 4 to 6 weeks off.

How can you care for yourself after an abdominal hernia repair?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • If your doctor gives you an abdominal binder to wear, use it as directed. This is an elastic bandage that wraps around your belly and upper hips. It helps support your belly muscles after surgery.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as biking, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, a vacuum cleaner, or a child.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • Most people are able to return to work within 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. But if your job requires that you do heavy lifting or strenuous activity, you may need to take 4 to 6 weeks off from work.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Pat the cut (incision) dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • Ask your doctor when it is okay for you to have sex.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless your doctor tells you not to).
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fiber supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also be given instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the cut (incision) the doctor made, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off. Or follow your doctor's instructions for removing the tape.
  • If you have staples closing the cut, you will need to visit your doctor in 1 to 2 weeks to have them removed.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.

Other instructions

  • Hold a pillow over your incision when you cough or take deep breaths. This will support your belly and decrease your pain.
  • Do breathing exercises at home as instructed by your doctor. This will help prevent pneumonia.
  • If you had laparoscopic surgery, you may also have pain in your shoulder. The pain usually lasts about a day or two.

How do you prepare for abdominal hernia repair surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure..

After abdominal hernia repair: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You are short of breath.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are sick to your stomach and cannot drink fluids.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • You cannot pass stools or gas.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

After abdominal hernia repair: Overview

After surgery to repair your hernia, you are likely to have pain for a few days. You may also feel tired and have less energy than normal. This is common.

You should feel better after a few days and will probably feel much better in 7 days.

For several weeks you may feel discomfort or pulling in the hernia repair when you move. You may have some bruising around the area of the repair. This is normal.

What happens on the day of your abdominal hernia repair surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery will take 30 minutes to 2 hours. It depends on how large the hernia is and where it is.

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