A hernia means that a part of your body has moved out of the area where it is usually contained. In a groin hernia, sometimes called an inguinal hernia, part of the contents of your abdomen have moved into your groin.

Normally the contents of your abdomen, such as your bowels or organs, are prevented from moving into your groin because your abdomen has a continuous covering around it. However, if you were born with an opening in that covering, or develop an opening in it later in life, the contents of your abdomen may find their way into your groin - resulting in a groin hernia.

There are two types of groin hernias. The first type is called an indirect inguinal (or groin) hernia. As you might have guessed, the second type is called a direct inguinal (or groin) hernia.

The 2 types of groin hernia

Indirect groin hernia

When a baby boy is developing within his mother's uterus, his testicles are actually located in his abdomen. At around the seventh month of pregnancy, the testicles begin their journey down into the scrotum from the abdomen and are usually present in the scrotum at birth or shortly after.

Normally the pathway that the testicles take from the abdomen into to scrotum closes once the testicles have reached their destination. But in some boys this pathway remains open. If this is the case, the contents of the abdomen may be able to find their way into the groin later in life, resulting in an indirect groin hernia. Often the bowel moves all the way into the scrotum.

Although indirect hernias are more common in men, they can occur in women. The ovaries develop within the abdomen and stay there. However, a ligament that helps hold the uterus in place - the round ligament - travels a similar path to that of the testicles in boys. If this pathway fails to properly close around the ligament, an indirect hernia may occur.

It is estimated that this pathway has failed to close in about 20% of all adults, though not everyone with an open pathway will actually develop an indirect groin hernia.

Of all of the hernias, indirect groin hernias are the most common in both men and women, and in all age groups.

Direct groin hernia

Direct groin hernias do not follow the pathway of the testicles in men or the round ligament in women. Instead, direct groin hernias make their own pathway from the abdomen into the groin.

A direct groin hernia may push through a weak area of the covering of the abdomen, allowing the contents of the abdomen to find their way into the groin. Increased pressure in the abdomen because of obesity, coughing, lifting, or straining may contribute to this.

Who gets groin hernias?

Adults with an open pathway between the abdomen and groin may develop an indirect groin hernia. However, not all adults with an open pathway will develop this condition.

Obesity, chronic cough, pregnancy, constipation, and straining on urination increase the pressure in the abdomen and can contribute to the development of either a direct or indirect groin hernia.

Written and Reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team