Written by Konstantinos M. Konstantinidis, MD, PhD, FACS, Adjunct Professor of Surgery, Ohio State University, USA, President, Greek Chapter of American College of Surgeons, Scientific Director, Director of General, Bariatric, Laparoscopic and Robotic Surgery Department, Athens Medical Center, Athens Medical Group
What is a hernia?
A hernia is defined as a defect or opening in the abdominal wall. It may be congenital (i.e. birth defect) or acquired (develops due to weakness of the tissues or after injury). Hernias are quite common, affecting 10-15% of the population. Both men and women may suffer from hernias.
What are the symptoms of a hernia?
Most commonly hernias are associated with a visible protrusion or lump, which is the result of the projection of an intra-abdominal organ through the abdominal wall opening, resulting in a deformation of the skin’s surface.
Hernias may present with discomfort or even pain, often associated with exercise. However, no symptoms may be present. In worst cases, hernias may cause severe pain, damage to intra-abdominal organs, or even intestinal obstruction (incarcerated hernias).
In this case, the patient should undergo surgery within a maximum of six hours of the onset of symptoms, otherwise there is a risk of intestinal necrosis. Generally with time, hernias have the tendency to grow, while the symptoms may worsen. Surgical operation is the exclusive treatment for hernias.
What are the risk factors of a hernia?
Risk factors for the development of a hernia include the following:
- Previous surgeries
- Rapid increase in abdominal size
- Sudden weight gain
- Chronic increase of intra-abdominal pressure
- Weight lifting
- Chronic cough
Why should hernias be repaired?
Surgical repair is the only permanent method for the correction of a hernia. Patients with a hernia are at risk of developing serious complications, such as intestine entrapment in the hernia’s opening (incarceration), which may subsequently cause intestinal obstruction and ischaemia (impaired intestinal perfusion, which leads to gangrene). Both these conditions require urgent surgical treatment. Generally, the scheduled (non-urgent) correction of a hernia leads to better results, shorter recovery time and far fewer postoperative complications.
What are the treatment options for hernias?
- Conservative treatment: The use of a truss should be avoided. May cause long-term injury to the intestine or multiple adhesions, which hinder greatly surgical repair.
- Surgical treatment:
- Open - Repair through incision, with conventional equipment.
- Laparoscopic - Performed through skin micro-incision with the use of a High Definition (1080p) video camera and special micro-laparoscopic equipment.
- Robotics - Robotics technology offers to the surgeon optimal image quality (3D High Definition 1080p image) and operating comfort in narrow spaces (Endowrist Instruments) and represents the ideal approach in the treatment of hernia.
Inguinal hernia is the most common type of hernia, accounting for about 2/3 of all hernia cases. It occurs more often in men. When the hernia sac reaches the scrotum, the hernia is called Scrotal-inguinal hernia. Depending on hernia’s course in the inguinal canal, two types are distinguished, straight and oblique inguinal hernia. In all cases, treatment involves the surgical repair. During the past twenty years, laparoscopic hernia repair became more and more popular, due to its significant advantages:
- Minimal postoperative pain
- Swift recovery
- Immediate return to daily activities and work
- Excellent aesthetic result
For many surgeons, laparoscopic access has replaced the open one. The operation is performed through 3 micro-incisions, one of which is 8 mm under the umbilicus, from where the High Definition optic laparoscope is inserted, and two 5 mm, through which the laparoscopic instruments are inserted. The laparoscope, which is a long and thin telescope allowing surgeons to see that part of lapara (abdomen) that interests them, is connected to a high-definition monitor. With microsurgical technique the hernia is reduced and the weak abdominal wall is strengthened with a mesh. The mesh, with dimensions 10x16cm, is made of non-absorbable material and it is perfectly compatible with the body. It is prepared, folded, and placed in the body through the camera trocar with no additional incision required.
Which laparoscopic technique is better?
Two different techniques are widely used:
- TransAbdominal Properitoneal Procedure (TAPP): This technique requires entering the peritoneal cavity (where the organs are located), opening the peritoneum from inside the abdomen, preparation of hernia, placement of the mesh, and closing the peritoneum covering the mesh.
- Totally ExtraPeritoneal Procedure (TEP): This technique avoids entering the peritoneal cavity. Conversely, it is performed outside the peritoneal cavity, at an area just above the peritoneum. The hernia opening is detected and restored through the placement of a mesh. The extraperitoneal technique (TEP - Totally Extraperitoneal Repair) is considered the safest method of restoring inguinal hernia, with the least possible complications. This technique is performed in our clinic since 1991, with a recurrence rate of less than 0.5%. Our experience, considered among the largest worldwide, exceeds 3,000 operations of this type.
What are the advantages of laparoscopic method?
The laparoscopic technique requires smaller incisions and it does not cause muscle injury. This may result in less postoperative pain and faster recovery. Due to the great magnification, testicular vessels and nerves of men are recognised and injuries are prevented. The laparoscopic technique is ideal for the treatment of bilateral inguinal hernia, since both sides can be accessed, using the same three small incisions. Additionally, the laparoscopic repair is the method of choice in all cases of recurrent hernias after previous open surgical procedures.
What possible complications are related to laparoscopic inguinal hernia repair?
- With the laparoscopic technique, bleeding, wound infection or even mesh infection may rarely occur.
- Even less frequent complications include injuries to the organs of the region’s organs.
- Hernia recurrence.
Is the conversion of laparoscopic to open surgery possible?
It is rather unlikely that this might be required. However, for some patients and for specific reasons it might be necessary to convert the surgery to open.
Furthermore, the conversion to the traditional open technique is sometimes required for technical reasons and it is not considered a surgical complication.
What is robotic inguinal hernia repair?
In recent years, there is great clinical interest in robotic inguinal hernia repair. The technique is safe and bloodless, while it uses the most modern technology with minimal intervention to the body. It allows optimum mesh positioning under three-dimensional stereoscopic vision and its fixing with sutures.
Postoperative complications are minimal and recovery is immediate. This technique is performed in our clinic with excellent results.