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 leg. The tissue bulges into a sac that comes out of a hole in 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 leg (groin).

There are two common types of inguinal hernias:

  • In reducible hernias, the bulge comes and goes. You may see it only when your child cries, coughs, strains or stands. This type of hernia doesn't cause harm right away, but it does need surgery to prevent more serious problems.
  • In incarcerated hernias, 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 openings in the belly 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 an opening did not close properly, tissue may bulge through at any age.

Inguinal Hernia at Seattle Children's

Our surgeons treat many children with inguinal hernias. This is the most common nonemergency (elective) surgery that our Pediatric Surgery Department does. Our surgeons perform several hundred operations 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 health needs and help your family through this experience.

Since 1907, Seattle Children's has been treating children only. Our team members are trained in their fields and also in meeting the unique needs of children. For example, the doctors who give your child anesthesia are board certified in pediatric anesthesiology. This means they have extra years of training in how to take care of kids. Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age. Our expertise in pediatrics truly makes a difference for our patients and families.