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What is an Incarcerated Hernia?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An incarcerated hernia is a type of hernia characterized by the fact that the herniated tissue becomes trapped in the hernial sack. Most commonly, this type of hernia presents as an abdominal hernia involving the bowels. Incarcerated hernias are considered surgical emergencies, and they require immediate medical treatment to avoid serious complications.

Hernias occur when organs bulge through the connective tissue which normally protects them and keeps them in place. The resulting bulge is known as a hernial sack, and it includes layers of connective tissue along with the herniated organ. People can often feel hernias from the outside in the case of abdominal hernias, because the hernia breaks through the abdominal wall.

In a reducible hernia, herniated material can move freely in and out of the hernial sack. This can cause pain and assorted complications, but it is not an immediate threat. Incarcerated hernias, on the other hand, involve tissue which becomes trapped, which means that the blood supply could potentially be cut off as the herniated material is squeezed. In the case of hernias involving the intestines, the intestines can become obstructed in an incarcerated hernia, causing nausea, vomiting, and other digestive problems.

If the blood supply to an incarcerated hernia is cut off, the hernia becomes strangulated. Strangulated hernias are very dangerous, because the tissue can die, causing gangrene to develop. The loop of bowel in a classic strangulated hernia must usually be removed, with the remaining sections of bowel being carefully reattached. Recovery time from such a surgery can be lengthy, as the repaired section of the bowel will need to heal along with the site of the herniation.

Surgery is the only option for repairing an incarcerated hernia. Once a surgeon cuts into the patient and sees the contents of the hernial sack, he or she can determine whether or not it will be possible to save the herniated tissue. In some cases, it may need to be cut away entirely due to tissue damage, while in other instances, it may be possible to carefully extricate the material and repair it before repositioning it. The earlier a patient goes for treatment of an incarcerated hernia, the better the prognosis.

A reducible hernia can quickly become incarcerated, which is why surgery is recommended for reducible hernias, even if they are not causing pain or discomfort for the patient. A prompt hernia repair will ensure that the organ involved does not experience permanent damage, and it will reduce pain and suffering in the long term by preventing the emergence of complications.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon990760 — On May 08, 2015

I have been diagnosed with hernia and surgery is scheduled two weeks out. I am experiencing "dull" nausea. Is this enough concern to try to move up surgery? I have no other major symptoms.

By anon974275 — On Oct 16, 2014

Have been in pain and haven't been able to eat or drink for three weeks. Finally made it to a doctor only to be told I needed to see a surgeon and have surgery today. I see the surgeon tomorrow, so scared.

By AshleyHarper — On Apr 11, 2014

I haven't heard of this type of hernia before. The hernia I know most about is abdominal hernia as my father had that once. Then I have heard about inguinal hernias and umbilical hernias. Thank you for this article explaining a different kind of hernia.

By anon937912 — On Mar 07, 2014

I don't know much about those hernia other than abdominal hernia. But I know one thing: that hernias can be really painful. And the few days following the hernia surgery can be really difficult. I have had hernia and subsequently surgery. The doctors and other staff really helped me in overcoming the pain.

By mstrunn — On Feb 08, 2014

I disagree with the statement that reducible hernias develop into incarcerated hernias; that is not very often the case. If the reducible hernia is small, the surgeon can manually push the hernia back into the abdominal wall during surgery. In many cases, a watch and wait procedure can be employed if the hernia is small and not causing any significant problems. An irreducible hernia is another story, as many have commented, this can lead to problems.

By anon337552 — On Jun 06, 2013

I've had different kinds of hernia surgeries for more than six years. I don't know why they keep coming out. In May, they had to open my body again to fix a huge abdominal hernia and when the doctor opened me up, he found more than five hernias. The pain was very bad; it was worse than the other hernia pain. I'm still home, with pain because he had to open me from the top of my stomach to the beginning of my private part. And he put "staples" in. I don't know what to do to avoid having more hernias. Good luck for the ones who have been through this horrible experience.

By anon336563 — On May 29, 2013

I agree with the 120002 post 3. My incarcerated hernia kicked in so quickly and was so so painful. One moment I was enjoying my very late Sunday dinner and within 15-20 minutes, I was in absolute agony. I knew something was seriously wrong as the pain was got worse so quickly.

For the first time in my life I called 999, and after 20 minutes of waiting I called 999 again only to be told that I was on the low priority list and that the ambulance might be with me in an hour or so, but by then I was in so much pain I couldn't stand up, and to be honest, I didn't have the energy to argue with the guy on the phone. Luckily my neighbor rushed me to A&E in his car, and once there I was seen immediately. It took a while to establish what the problem was but once diagnosed, I had emergency surgery a few hours later and made a full recovery. This, by the way, happened five days after a car crash that I thought I had escaped any injury from.

By anon319800 — On Feb 14, 2013

I had an incarcerated hernia operation over the holidays. Everybody said it would be a simple in and out surgery. Yes, the surgery went pretty well. However, the pain was pretty intense for the next three weeks. When I thought my wound was healing and the pain subsiding, I would get these unbelievable zings when I turned over in my sleep. The doctor told me that this was normal. Now, two months later, the pain is almost completely gone. Do not lift anything. Even lifting a small item aggravated my healing.

By anon234984 — On Dec 15, 2011

I just had my incarcerated hernia operated on, and yes the pain was unbearable. I had the hernia for some time, but I had contracted a cough from a cold and the intense coughing cause part of my intestine to be lodged within the hernia. I was fine one moment, then felt a stabbing pain, and within the hour I could not even walk. They had to operate that night.

And I agree with getting a second opinion. I had a doctor look at it about two years ago, and he just gave me an antibiotic which did nothing. Now with all the CT scans and ultrasounds, it's costing about five times as much as it would have if the first doctor had actually known what he was talking about.

By anon216696 — On Sep 22, 2011

I had this surgery over a month ago and am still having major drainage. The doctor said it is normal but it is really bad!

By anon171727 — On May 01, 2011

I just had emergency surgery on a incarcerated hernia. I can't believe the horrible pain that came with it. Thank god they got it in time and all the tissue was still okay.

By anon167432 — On Apr 12, 2011

I am scheduled to have a surgery about one week from now. I went to two different doctors. The first one said it was nothing, but not to me with all the pain that I was suffering from and worst of all, I have an 11-month-old son that I cannot lift up or play with.

So I went to another doctor and he told me that it was an incarcerated hernia to the touch. Please be careful and always look for a second opinion whether you trust your doctor or not.

By anon152449 — On Feb 14, 2011

I recently had hernia surgery and yes, i agree the pain was intense. i nearly passed out. i had been in and out of hospital with the pain. it's the worst i have ever felt and hope never to feel it again. i had to be off work 8 weeks and still now have to take it easy, and i had mine done in oct 2010.

By anon120002 — On Oct 20, 2010

I recently had emergency surgery for an incarcerated hernia. Nowhere in this article could I find mention of the agonizing pain that accompanied the development of the hernia. It started as a mild pain such as a hunger pang. Within 45 minutes, I was an the verge of collapsing into unconsciousness.

By ginsberg05 — On Jul 12, 2010

While many people are born with abdominal hernias, some may experience them later in life. Any straining of the abdominal cavity may contribute to the creation or worsening of a hernia. Obesity, heavy lifting, straining while using the bathroom, chronic lung disease, and fluid in the abdominal cavity are all possible causations of hernia.

By tmacsgirl — On Jul 12, 2010

Those diagnosed with abdominal hernias should avoid any activities that involve a strain to the abdominal region of the body. Coughing, lifting, and/or straining may cause the hernia to increase in size.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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