Skip to content
Dr QM Leong
Dr QM Leong

Can Hernias Change Your Bowel Movements? A Comprehensive Guide

Can a hernia change bowel movements? Yes. Hernias, a common health condition characterised by the protrusion of an organ through the surrounding muscle or tissue, often raises concerns about their impact on daily functions, particularly bowel movements.

Among various types, the most prevalent are inguinal hernias, hiatal hernias, femoral hernias, and incisional hernias, each presenting unique symptoms and risks. And each can impact bowel function.

This article looks into the various ways hernia can change bowel habits, highlighting the importance of seeking medical attention for hernia symptoms.

Different Types Of Hernia And Their Effects On Bowel Movements

A hernia occurs when the internal organ or fatty tissue bulges through a weak spot in the surrounding muscle or connective tissue. This can happen because of muscle weakness and strain.

Weakness may result from various factors, including ageing, injury, surgery, or congenital conditions. Conversely, strain may result from heavy lifting, constipation, persistent coughing, or weight gain. These factors increase abdominal pressure and force organs or tissues through the weak spot.

Different types of hernias can affect bowel movements in various ways, depending on their location and severity. 

Inguinal Hernia

Inguinal hernias typically occur in the inguinal canal, a part of the lower abdomen near the pubic bone. They appear as a bulge on either side of the pubic bone and can extend into the groin.

  • Causes: In men, they often involve the spermatic cord. In women, they relate to a ligament that supports the uterus. They are categorised into indirect inguinal hernias, often congenital and common in children, and direct inguinal hernias, typically found in adult men and related to muscle weakness.
  • Symptoms: A visible bulge in the groin area, which may extend to the scrotum in men. It usually doesn’t directly affect bowel movements unless it’s very large or strangulated (when the blood supply to the herniated tissue is cut off). 

A strangulated inguinal hernia can cause bowel obstruction, leading to symptoms like severe constipation, bloating, and vomiting.

Femoral Hernia

Femoral hernias develop in the femoral canal, located just below the inguinal canal near the upper thigh or groin. They are more common in women.

  • Causes: They happen when the intestine pushes through a weak spot in the muscle near the femoral artery and vein.
  • Symptoms: A bulge near the groin or upper thigh, often smaller than inguinal hernias, but can be more prone to serious complications. Like inguinal hernias, they typically don’t affect bowel movements unless they become strangulated, which can lead to bowel obstruction.

Umbilical Hernia

These hernias are found near the belly button and are primarily common in infants but can also happen in adults.

  • Causes: In infants, they result from the muscles around the navel not fully closing after birth. In adults, they can be caused by repeated strain on the abdomen.
  • Symptoms: A bulge or swelling at or near the belly button. Umbilical hernias rarely affect bowel movements, but if they are large or strangulated, they can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.

Incisional Hernia

Incisional hernias are found at the site of a previous surgical wound in the abdomen.

  • Causes: They occur when muscles weakened by surgery don’t heal completely.
  • Symptoms: A bulge or swelling at the site of a past surgical incision, particularly in those who have had abdominal surgery. If large or complicated, it might affect bowel movements, especially if it leads to a partial bowel obstruction.

Some individuals are at a higher risk of developing hernias. Pregnant women, for example, may develop hernias due to the increased pressure on the abdomen.

Likewise, individuals who experience chronic severe abdominal pain, those who frequently engage in heavy lifting, or those who have had previous abdominal surgeries are more susceptible to hernia development.

The Ways Hernias Affect Bowel Movement

The effects of hernias on bowel function can vary from mild discomfort to severe, life-threatening complications.

Obstruction

One of the most significant ways a hernia can affect bowel movements is through obstruction. This occurs when a segment of the intestine becomes trapped in the hernia, blocking the passage of bowel contents.

In cases of small bowel obstruction caused by a hernia, the symptoms can include severe abdominal pain, inability to pass gas or stool, vomiting, and a noticeable bulge in the abdomen.

You need immediate medical attention if you have these symptoms, as it can lead to further complications like tissue death due to lack of blood supply. Those with hernias should be particularly vigilant about such symptoms.

Pain In The Groin Area

Depending on their location and size, Hernias can cause discomfort or pain that indirectly impacts bowel habits. For instance, a direct inguinal hernia might cause an aching sensation or pain in the groin area, especially when bending over, coughing, or lifting heavy objects.

Because of this discomfort, some individuals might eat less to avoid aggravating the hernia pain, potentially leading to constipation. In contrast, others may alter their diet in ways that affect bowel regularity.

Strangulation

In more severe cases, such as with a strangulated hernia, the herniated part of the intestine has its blood supply cut off. This is a medical emergency because it can result in tissue death and sepsis if left untreated.

The symptoms of a strangulated hernia are sudden, severe pain at the hernia site, red or purple discolouration of the bulge, nausea, and vomiting. The onset of these symptoms is often rapid and requires immediate medical attention.

Strangulation can severely impact bowel movements, making patients experience severe abdominal pain and incapable of passing stool or gas.

Inguinal Hernias

This type of hernia can impact bowel movements due to its location near the lower abdomen and groin. Individuals with an inguinal hernia may experience discomfort or pain exacerbated during physical activity or bowel movements, leading to avoidance of certain movements or strains that can affect bowel regularity.

Additionally, the pressure exerted by the hernia on surrounding tissues can lead to a sensation of fullness or bloating, which may influence bowel habits.

Related Complications

Beyond direct effects, hernias can lead to other complications that indirectly affect bowel movements. For example, a hiatal hernia (where part of the stomach pushes into the chest cavity through an opening in the diaphragm) can cause acid reflux, which might lead to changes in diet and eating habits, subsequently affecting bowel movements.

 

Diagnosing Hernia And When To See A Doctor

Diagnosing a hernia starts with a physical examination to look for a bulge in the abdomen or groin area, which may become more noticeable when you stand up, cough, or strain. Sometimes, the doctor may feel the hernia when you are standing, and it may disappear when you lie down.

A CT scan or an MRI might be required to confirm the diagnosis. These imaging tests are especially helpful in diagnosing hernias that are not easily felt on a physical exam and assessing the size and content of the hernia.

Immediate medical attention is crucial if you experience intense or worsening pain, signs of bowel obstruction (like inability to pass stool or gas), or if the hernia becomes red, purple, or dark. These could be signs of a strangulated hernia.

Treatment Options For Hernias

Hernias are treated depending on their size, type, and symptoms. The aim of treating hernias is to relieve symptoms and avoid complications, like strangulation and obstruction. 

The most effective treatment is surgical repair, which aims to strengthen the weak area and restore the anatomy, thereby preventing recurrence.

A fibre-rich diet is recommended to help minimise or manage hernias-related bowel movement issues. This includes eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Staying hydrated and avoiding heavy or fatty meals can also be beneficial.

Surgical Repair

Surgery is often recommended for hernias that are large, painful, or growing. Two main types of surgery are:

  • Open Surgery: The surgeon cuts the hernia and pushes the bulging tissue back into place. The weak area is then repaired with stitches, and sometimes mesh is used to strengthen the area.
  • Minimally Invasive Surgery (Laparoscopic or Robotic Surgery): This involves several small incisions instead of one large one where the doctor inserts a tiny camera and surgical tools to repair the hernia. This method typically offers quicker recovery, less pain, and a lower risk of infection.

Emergency surgery is necessary for hernias leading to complications like intestinal obstruction or strangulation. This is a more urgent situation where the trapped portion of the intestine might not be getting enough blood flow, which can lead to tissue death and other serious complications.

Conclusion About How Hernia Can Change Bowel Movement

While hernias like inguinal hernias, femoral hernias, and incisional hernias can impact bowel habits, effective medical treatment is available. It’s vital to monitor symptoms and seek medical attention, especially in cases of severe pain, bowel obstruction, or other serious complications.

If you are experiencing hernia symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact Advanced Colorectal and General Surgery. Our experienced surgeon in Singapore, Dr. QM Leong, is an expert in hernia repair and bowel obstruction treatments.

Book a consultation today!

Frequently Asked Questions About How Hernia Can Change Bowel Movement

Are There Any Long-Term Effects On Bowel Movements After A Hernia Is Treated?

Long-term effects on bowel movements after hernia treatment are uncommon, especially if the hernia has been properly repaired. However, individual outcomes can vary, and any persistent changes in bowel habits should be discussed with your doctor.

Will Hernia Treatment Immediately Resolve Bowel Issues?

Post-hernia repair; bowel issues may take some time to resolve. Immediate improvement is not always guaranteed, as recovery varies from person to person. It’s important to follow your doctor’s post-operative care instructions and dietary advice.

Can Hernias Recur After Surgery, And Will This Affect My Bowel Movements Again?

Yes, hernia recurrence after surgery is possible, especially if post-operative care guidelines are not followed or due to other risk factors. Recurrence can bring back previous symptoms, including those affecting bowel movements.

How Can I Differentiate Between Normal Bowel Changes And Those Caused By A Hernia?

Normal bowel changes are occasional and can be linked to diet or temporary health changes. Bowel changes due to a hernia are often persistent and may be accompanied by other symptoms like pain or a noticeable bulge. Consulting a doctor is the best way to determine the cause.