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HealthInfo Canterbury

Inguinal hernia in children

This page is about inguinal hernias in children. For hernias in adults see Hernia.

A hernia is a lump that appears when an organ or tissue pushes through a weak spot in the wall of a person's abdomen (tummy). In an inguinal hernia, this weak spot is in their groin, and that's where the lump shows up.

Inguinal hernias are more common in boys, but they can also happen in girls. They're more likely to happen in premature babies, but they can happen at any age.

If a boy has an inguinal hernia, the lump may extend as far down as his scrotum.

The lump may move in and out, and it may not always be obvious. Parents usually notice it first.

The lump can also get stuck and cause pain. This is called a strangulated hernia. If a child has a strangulated hernia the lump will feel hard and sore.

Important

A strangulated hernia is a medical emergency. If you think your child has a strangulated hernia, take them to your GP, to the after-hours surgery, or to the hospital's Emergency Department.

How is an inguinal hernia treated?

If your child has an inguinal hernia, they'll need an operation to repair it and stop it from becoming strangulated. This is usually done under general anaesthetic (your child is asleep) as day surgery, so they won't have to stay in hospital overnight. But some young babies do need to stay in hospital overnight to be monitored.

During the operation, the surgeon will make a small cut in your child's groin. They'll stitch up the weak spot to stop the hernia coming out, and then close the cut with a dissolvable stitch that's hard to see, and doesn't need to be removed.

After the surgery, there's a small chance of infection and bleeding, and your child may need antibiotics. In boys, there's a very small chance the surgery may damage their vas deferens or other vessels. In rare cases the hernia may come back. Talk to your child's surgeon about these risks.

Your child should recover quickly, but they may need some simple pain relief for a few days.

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Written by paediatric surgeon, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created May 2018.

Page reference: 421338

Review key: HIIHB-421338