4 Hernia Clinics | Walnut Creek, Concord, Antioch, & Brentwood

Incarcerated Hernia: Everything You Need to Know

April 8, 2023

Incarcerated Hernia: Everything You Need to Know

When part of the intestine or other abdominal tissue gets trapped in the opening of the surrounding muscle or tissues, it is known as an incarcerated hernia. This can prevent the trapped tissue from getting enough blood, resulting in serious complications.

It is common for incarcerated hernias to cause pain, swelling, and a sense of fullness in the affected area. Below, we have talked about everything you need to know about incarcerated hernias in detail.

Understanding Incarceration in Hernia

Incarceration, in simple terms, means confinement. In the context of hernias, incarceration means a protrusion of a tissue or organ which becomes trapped and cannot be pushed back into its place. 

An incarcerated hernia is typically a surgical emergency, and it is important to consult a clinician as soon as possible.

Incarceration can happen with any type of hernia, but it's most common with inguinal hernias. The inguinal (groin) hernia is caused by a weak point in the abdominal muscles in the groin. Incarceration can also occur in femoral and umbilical hernias.

What Causes Incarcerated Hernia

In incarcerated hernias, the hernia sac is trapped in the muscles surrounding the hernia, making reduction difficult or impossible. A variety of factors can contribute to this, including:

  • Increased intra-abdominal pressure: In situations such as heavy lifting, coughing, or straining, a hernia can become trapped due to increased pressure within the abdominal cavity. This can also be caused due to obesity in several cases.
  • Constipation: During bowel movements, straining can put pressure on the hernia and cause it to become incarcerated.
  • Fluid accumulation: Fluids from the body may accumulate in a hernia sac, and among them can be blood and urine. For example, hernias near the bladder can become incarcerated when the bladder pushes against them after being full.
  • Scar tissue: The scar tissue can incarcerate a hernia by narrowing the opening through which the protrusion emerges or by decreasing the suppleness of surrounding tissue. A scar can form after surgery, such as after a hernia repair operation. The scar tissue can also harden over time, making it more difficult to push the hernia back into its original position.

How to Tell If the Hernia Is Incarcerated?

An incarcerated hernia may present with several signs and symptoms:

  • Severe pain: Hernias that are trapped may cause severe pain or discomfort in a specific area.
  • Swelling: Depending on the severity of the hernia, it may appear swollen, tender, or feel firm to the touch.
  • Nausea or vomiting: When a hernia becomes trapped, it can cause nausea due to pressure and pain.  Additionally, nausea can be caused by a lack of blood flow to trapped tissues, which can result in tissue damage and inflammation.
  • Bulge: A bulge may become more obvious and noticeable. You will likely be able to see it when you are resting.
  • Redness or discoloration: The skin around the hernia region can become red or discolored because not enough blood flow is reaching it.

Are Strangulated and Incarcerated Hernias Different?

Strangulated hernias are hernias that are caused by a blockage of the blood flow to the trapped tissue. The trapped hernia sac is strangulated when the blood supply to it is cut off due to the collapse of the muscle wall. This is a serious medical condition and should be immediately treated. If left untreated, it can result in the death of the trapped tissue.

Strangulated hernias are characterized by nausea and vomiting, intense abdominal pain, swelling and tenderness over the abdomen, fever, chills, a fast heartbeat, and bluish or purple discoloration of the skin over the hernia. The symptoms are quite similar to those of incarcerated.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Incarcerated Hernias

Doctors diagnose incarcerating hernias through physical examinations. You may also be asked to cough or bear down while the doctor checks for a lump or bulge by gently pressing on it. To confirm the diagnosis, a CT scan or ultrasound may also be performed.

Since incarcerating hernias are difficult or almost impossible to push back naturally, their treatment typically involves surgery. Your doctor may recommend a herniorrhaphy and hernioplasty. These procedures involve pushing the herniated tissue back into the abdominal cavity and closing the weakened muscle with sutures or mesh. This surgery can be performed using both laparoscopic and open repair techniques.

Find out which hernia treatment plan is right for you by speaking with your doctor, or contact Hernia Innovations where we specialize in Hernia Surgery Treatments. Contact us today for an appointment by sending us a message or calling us at (925) 940-1020.