Hernia Repair


What Is It?

A hernia repair, also known as herniorrhaphy, is the surgical procedure to fix a hernia. A hernia occurs when part of an internal organ or body part protrudes through another area where it shouldn’t. The most common hernias occur when a piece of intestine pokes through a weak area in the wall of the abdomen. This causes an abnormal bulge under the skin of the abdomen, usually near the groin or navel.

There are two kinds of hernia repair:

  • Traditional (open) hernia repair — The surgeon cuts open the skin and fixes the hernia through an opening that is several inches long.
  • Laparoscopic hernia repair — In this less invasive procedure, the surgeon makes several small holes in the skin, and inserts a laparoscope (a telescopelike instrument with a camera for viewing inside the abdomen) to guide long-handled surgical instruments.

More than 700,000 groin (inguinal) hernias are repaired each year in the United States, and additional hernia repair procedures are performed to correct hernias that occur in other parts of the body. For most people, a hernia repair is a same-day procedure. Occasionally, a brief hospital stay is needed for those who have other serious medical problems.

What It’s Used For

Although many different types of hernias can develop, the most common ones occur when a portion of the intestine pokes through an area of weakness in the wall of the abdomen. This causes an abnormal bulge under the skin, often near the groin or the navel. Men are much more likely than women to develop groin hernias.

Hernias can cause pain or pressure or can appear as a painless lump. Most hernias become larger over time and will not heal on their own. There is a small risk that part of the bowel will get trapped within the hernia, which can lead to a medical emergency. Not all hernias need to be repaired, but you may choose to have surgery if:

  • The hernia is causing discomfort or limiting your activities
  • The hernia is growing larger
  • You or your doctor are worried about the risk of the bowel getting trapped


Most hernias are diagnosed during an office visit with your doctor, and surgery will be planned at your convenience. Your doctor will exam you and review your medical history. If there is any chance you might be pregnant, you must inform your doctor prior to surgery. Your doctor may order certain tests, including blood tests, and electrocardiogram (EKG) and a chest X-ray to make sure that you can undergo surgery safely. About one week before your hernia repair, your doctor may ask you to stop taking aspirin and other medications that can cause bleeding. You will be asked not to eat or drink anything beginning the night before surgery to reduce the risk of vomiting during surgery.

On the day of your surgery, you should wear loose fitting clothing. Ask your doctor if you should take any of your regular medications with a sip of water. You also should make necessary arrangements for someone to drive you home after the surgery.

How It’s Done

Hernia repair may be performed under different kind of anesthesia, including general anesthesia, in which you are unconscious during the procedure and spinal, regional or local anesthesia, in which you are awake but pain is blocked in the area of surgery. An intravenous line inserted into one of your veins will deliver fluids and medications. The procedure generally takes less than one to two hours to perform.

  • Traditional hernia repair — In a traditional repair, the surgeon makes an incision of several inches above or next to the hernia. Once the surgeon can clearly see the herniated body part (usually a portion of intestine) he or she pushes it back into its proper place. Then the weakness or hole in the abdominal wall is repaired with stitches (sutures). Finally, the outer incision is closed with stitches.

    Your surgeon may use a synthetic mesh patch to repair your hernia. These patches may speed recovery because they reduce the tension on sutures, and may make it less likely that your hernia will come back in the future. However, mesh patches may increase the possibility of scarring or infection.

  • Laparoscopic hernia repair — In a laparoscopic repair, a harmless gas is injected into your abdomen to inflate it. This gives your surgeon more room to work and a better view. Next, the laparoscope is inserted through a small incision at your navel. Other surgical instruments, such as tools for cutting and stapling, are inserted in several other small incisions in the groin. A camera on the laparoscope transmits images from your abdomen to a viewing screen. These images help to guide the surgeon in using the surgical instruments. The surgeon gently pushes the herniated body part back into its proper place, then positions a mesh patch over the weakness in your abdominal wall. The patch is secured in place with harmless staples, surgical clips or sutures. At the end of the procedure, your abdomen is deflated and the small incisions are closed with sutures or surgical tape.

    Only some surgeons perform laparoscopic hernia repair. This is a relatively new procedure, and not all surgeons are convinced that it is better than the traditional surgery. However, there is some evidence that the laparoscopic procedure causes less discomfort and allows people to return to usual activities more quickly.

After surgery, you will be monitored closely and given pain medication. Most people recover within a few hours and will be safe to go home the same day.


You can usually return to desk work, driving and other light activities within a few days of surgery. If you work at a more physical job, you may need to wait for two weeks or more.

You will visit your doctor for follow up within one to two weeks after your surgery. Your doctor will remove any sutures and check the healing of your incisions. You also should speak with your doctor about resuming specific activities such as sports, heavy labor and lifting.


Hernia repair is very safe surgery. However, there is always a small risk of complications including infection, excessive bleeding, blood clots or injury to the intestines or other nearby structures.

In children, hernia repair has long term success in 99 percent of cases. Typically, in adults, the surgery fails or the hernia returns in 2 percent to 5 percent of people. However, the rate can be as high as 15 percent in some situations.

When To Call A Professional

Once you return home, call your doctor immediately if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your incision becomes red, swollen and tender or it oozes blood.
  • You have severe pain or swelling near the location of the surgery.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised:

Diseases and Conditions Center

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.