Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Inguinal Hernia

What is inguinal hernia?

An inguinal (pronounced ING-win-ul) hernia is a bulge of tissue near the crease between your child’s belly (abdomen) and inner thigh. The tissue bulges into a sac that comes out of a hole in the wall of the belly.

It’s normal for babies to have this sac before they are born. It is supposed to seal shut just before birth. If the sac does not seal shut, it can form either:

  • An inguinal hernia, which occurs when the sac is large enough for the intestine — or in girls, an ovary — to come through the hole and into the sac
  • A communicating or simple hydrocele

Organs that slip into the sac show up as a bulge under the skin in the area between the belly and the inner thigh (groin). A bulge may be the only symptom, but sometimes an inguinal hernia causes pain.

There are two common types of inguinal hernias:

  • In reducible hernia, the bulge comes and goes. You may see it only when your child cries, coughs, strains, runs or stands. This type of hernia doesn’t cause harm right away, but it does need surgery to prevent more serious problems.
  • In incarcerated hernia, the bulge is always present and is likely painful. This type of hernia needs treatment right away. The tissue that has slipped may be trapped. Blood supply to the tissue may be cut off, causing it to die. Or, if the intestines have slipped, they may become blocked.

Inguinal Hernia in Children

Boys are 10 times more likely to have an inguinal hernia than girls. Between 1% and 5% of newborn boys have an inguinal hernia.

The hole in the belly wall and the sac are present when your baby is born (congenital). But you may not notice a bulge for several months or even years. If the sac did not close properly, tissue may bulge through at any age.

Inguinal Hernia at Seattle Children’s

Our surgeons have treated many thousands of children with inguinal hernias. This is the most common nonemergency (elective) surgery our surgeons perform. Our surgeons perform several hundred surgeries to fix inguinal hernias every year.

When you come to Seattle Children’s, you have a team of people to care for your child before, during and after surgery. Along with your child’s surgeon, you are connected with nurses, child life specialists, social workers and others. We work together to meet all of your child’s healthcare needs and help your family through this experience.

Read more about expert treatment for inguinal hernia at Seattle Children’s.

Contact Us

If you have questions about inguinal hernia treatment, call our General and Thoracic Surgery Department at 206-987-2794.