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Hernias Are Tough to Live With, the Fix Is a Lot Easier

Man with abdominal pain

For many people, just the word “hernia” conjures something mysterious and somehow embarrassing, but that should never be the case, says Jonathan Blancaflor, MD, director of Robotic Surgery, L+M, assistant professor of Clinical Surgery at Yale School of Medicine.

Hernias are very common, and Dr. Blancaflor should know – he has performed more than 2,000 repair operations in his career and recently hit a milestone of 1,000 robotic hernia cases.

“We use advanced robotic services to fix hernias efficiently and with minimal pain, and it’s much faster recovery using our robotic approaches,” Dr. Blancaflor said.

Dr. Blancaflor encourages everyone to learn what a hernia is, and to take action if you think you or a loved one may have one.

“A hernia can happen to anyone,” Dr. Blancaflor said. “Basically, a hernia is a weakness or hole in the abdominal wall. Important structures like intestines can pop through the hole and become trapped. In some cases, this can become very dangerous, which is why anyone who thinks they have a hernia should see a doctor.”

How to treat a hernia

There are many specific types of hernias. Some of the more common types include hiatal hernias, incisional hernias and inguinal hernias. Safe and routine surgical procedures can repair most hernias, and patients recover quickly and get back to living their lives without pain or worry.

The danger of an untreated hernia is that healthy tissue can become “strangulated,” which can lead to the loss of blood supply to the tissue. There is also risk of potentially life-threatening infections, including sepsis.

Randal Zhou, MD, a minimally invasive surgeon at L+M Hospital and assistant professor of Surgery at Yale School of Medicine, also regularly treats patients for hernias. “Don’t put it off,” Dr. Zhou said.

“Hernias don’t get better on their own. In fact, they usually get harder to manage and more uncomfortable. Left untreated, there is often an increasing risk of serious and even life-threatening consequences. We understand that some patients feel apprehensive about talking to a physician about a hernia, but we treat these medical conditions all the time, and we treat every patient with dignity and compassion.”

Sanford Edwards, MD, a Northeast Medical Group general surgeon practicing at Westerly Hospital, extolled the advantages of today’s robotic surgical advances.

“One of the benefits of robotic surgery is the ability to repair a hernia using smaller incisions than a traditional open repair,” he said. “This results in less pain postoperatively.

“As a result,” Dr. Edwards added, “patients are often able to return to their daily activities quicker. However, robotic surgery may not be the right option for every patient. There are many factors that determine whether a patient is a candidate for robotic hernia repair. It is important for the surgeon and the patient to have a thorough discussion prior to proceeding with any surgery.”

What causes a hernia?

Typically, a hernia will cause a noticeable bulge and pain. Hernias generally develop in the abdominal wall, in the groin or the diaphragm. In many cases, small hernias may have been present since birth, and they can enlarge over time. Other hernias can develop as we age, from repetitive strain, heavy lifting or at sites of previous abdominal surgeries. “And hernias do seem to run in families,” Dr. Blancaflor added.

Other contributing factors for hernias include physical exertion, obesity, pregnancy, frequent heavy coughing, straining due to constipation, prostatism (a prostate disorder) and smoking. Any concerning symptoms, especially in those with risk factors should talk to their doctor.

“The most rewarding part of my job is actually making people feel better,” said Dr. Blancaflor. “I’ve had people come in and they’ve had pain in the groin for years, they were just afraid to get it checked out. We help them with an easy procedure, we fix that hernia, and they can get back to the activities they enjoy. We help patients get back to a better and happier quality of life.”