(See also Inguinal hernia in neonates.)
About 75% of all abdominal wall hernias are inguinal.
Most patients complain only of a visible bulge, which may cause vague discomfort or be asymptomatic. Most hernias, even large ones, can be manually reduced with persistent gentle pressure; placing the patient in the Trendelenburg position may help.
An incarcerated hernia cannot be reduced and can be the cause of a bowel obstruction.
A strangulated hernia causes steady, gradually increasing pain, typically with nausea and vomiting. The hernia itself is tender, and the overlying skin may be erythematous; peritonitis may develop depending on location, with diffuse tenderness, guarding, and rebound.
The diagnosis of an inguinal hernia is clinical. Because the hernia may be apparent only when abdominal pressure is increased, the patient should be examined in a standing position. If no hernia is palpable, the patient should cough or perform a Valsalva maneuver as the examiner palpates the groin (with a finger in the inguinal canal in males).
Inguinal masses that resemble hernias may be the result of adenopathy (infectious or malignant), an ectopic testis, or lipoma. These masses are solid and are not reducible. A scrotal mass may be a varicocele, hydrocele, or testicular tumor. Ultrasound may be done if physical examination is equivocal.
Inguinal hernias typically should be repaired electively because of the risk of strangulation, which results in higher morbidity (and possible mortality in older patients). Asymptomatic inguinal hernias in men can be observed; if symptoms develop, they can be repaired electively. Repair may be through a standard incision or laparoscopically.
An incarcerated or strangulated hernia of any kind requires urgent surgical repair.