What is hernia repair surgery?

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Hernia repair surgery: Overview

A hernia occurs when a weak spot in your belly muscles allows a piece of your intestines or the tissue around them to poke through. This can cause a bulge in the area. It can also cause pain. But you may not feel anything.

The hernia may be in your groin. Or it may be near your belly button. In some cases, it's in a scar from an earlier surgery. A doctor can fix a hernia through a cut (incision) made near it. This is called open surgery. Or the doctor may make some very small cuts and use a thin, lighted scope and small tools. This is laparoscopic surgery. If your hernia is bulging, the bulge is pushed back into place. The doctor then sews the healthy tissue back together. Often a piece of material is used to patch the weak spot.

Open surgery will leave a longer scar. Laparoscopic surgery leaves a few small scars. The scars will fade with time.

You may need to take 1 to 2 weeks off from work. This depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.

How can you care for yourself after hernia repair surgery?

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.
  • 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.
  • You may drive when you are no longer taking pain medicine and can quickly move your foot from the gas pedal to the brake. You must also be able to sit comfortably for a long period of time, even if you do not plan to go far. You might get caught in traffic.
  • Most people are able to return to work within 1 to 2 weeks after surgery.
  • 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.
  • Your doctor will tell you when you can have sex again.

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. He or she will also give you 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, take an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • 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.
  • 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.

How do you prepare for 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 hernia repair surgery: 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 have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You are sick to your stomach and cannot keep fluids down.
  • 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 cannot pass stools or gas.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • 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.

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

After hernia repair surgery: Overview

You are likely to have pain for the next 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 near the repair site and on your genitals. This is normal. If you have swelling in the genitals, you may be told to wear well-fitting briefs. Spandex bicycle shorts may also provide good support.

What happens on the day of your 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 about 30 minutes to 2 hours. This depends on the size of the hernia and where it is.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.