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If you’ve ever had a hernia, you know how incredibly painful it can be.
Imagine having four at one time.
That was the reality for Jennifer Hamilton, 45, of Middletown. Her 15-year hernia nightmare began in 2002 after surgery to remove a pancreatic cyst.
“I think I’ve had as many as 12 hernias,” said Hamilton. “At one point, I had four at one time. I’d have surgery to repair one, and another would pop up somewhere else.”
What is a hernia?
A hernia occurs when part of the organ projects through the structure or muscle that normally contains it. They are often thought of as a “bulge” in the abdominal wall or groin.
Types of hernias
There are many different types of hernias – some that can be seen and some that cannot.
Hernias you can see:
- Inguinal hernia/femoral hernia – or “groin” hernia
- Umbilical hernia – hernia at the umbilicus (belly-button)
- Ventral or incisional hernia – bulges along previous incisions
- Other (common terms: epigastric, spigelian, flank) – hernias that occur at other sites on the abdominal wall
Hernias you can’t see:
- Hiatal hernia – hernias inside the abdomen; can cause gastric reflux (heartburn), difficulty swallowing, and blockages of the intestines
- Internal hernia – hernia inside of the abdomen, usually from previous surgery
- Diaphragm hernias – hernias of the diaphragm (breathing muscle); can be from birth or occur after surgery or trauma
When to see a doctor
Kettering Health surgeon James Parker, MD recommends hernia sufferers see a specialist. “Have a hernia surgeon examine it, then discuss the details of what to look for, and when or if it needs to be repaired.”
Once hernias create symptoms such as pain, bowel blockages, enlargement, and so forth, they need to be repaired. This typically is done by closing the hole with strong sutures, then placing a piece of mesh over the area to strengthen the normal tissues of the abdominal wall and help prevent the hole from coming back.
“I describe it like ‘fixing a flat,’ where a patch is placed over a hole in a tire and secured to prevent it from ‘leaking’,” explained Dr. Parker.
While this traditional method of hernia repair is usually quite successful, “the odds of having a hernia recurrence are high,” said Dr. Parker.
In complex cases like Hamilton’s, the muscles and fascia (the strong tissue holding muscles in place on the abdominal wall) have sustained damage from multiple recurrences. Dr. Parker often moves muscles and fascia to close the hole. He then uses a larger mesh, putting it between the muscles, if possible.
“We do all hernia repairs – simple and complex, and do them differently to prevent recurrence,” said Dr. Parker. “We offer robotic, laparoscopic, open repairs, as well as complex muscle and fascia rearrangements. Many general surgeons are not trained in all these areas.”
He said that he actually prefers complex cases because they are very rewarding. “Sometimes patients just need to hear a different viewpoint to make the decision about a hernia repair.”
As for Hamilton, she is living a happy, hernia-free life. “I love Dr. Parker,” said Hamilton. “I would refer anyone to him and the team at the Hernia Center.”
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