The most common symptom of a groin hernia, either direct or indirect, is a mass or bump in your groin. This mass usually develops gradually but can occasionally occur with a single forceful muscular event - such as lifting a heavy object.

Often the mass in your groin will cause you some discomfort. It is usually worse at the end of the day and is relieved when you lie down. Sometimes if you hold or push the mass back where it belongs, it will also feel better. The mass in your groin may be tender if you touch it. When you cough or strain, the mass may get bigger and you may be able to feel the vibrations from your cough in the mass. If the mass contains bowel from your abdomen, it may actually gurgle like your abdomen does from time to time. Your doctor will often be able to diagnose a groin hernia based on these symptoms alone.

There are some important concerns regarding groin hernias and their potential complications. You may suffer from what is known as an incarcerated hernia. An incarcerated hernia is at a higher risk of becoming strangulated and may lead to a bowel obstruction.

  • Incarcerated hernia occurs when the part of your abdomen that is protruding into your groin becomes stuck in your groin. This means that you or your doctor will be unable to push the hernia back up where it came from.
  • Strangulated hernia is a hernia that has twisted upon itself, cutting off its own blood supply. This is a surgical emergency and a life-threatening situation that can result in intense pain, bowel obstruction, and serious infection.
  • Bowel obstruction occurs when stool can no longer travel through the bowel, resulting in a blockage of the bowel.

Investigating a groin hernia

The diagnosis of a groin hernia is usually quite obvious based on the history of your symptoms and a physical examination. Your doctor may try to push the hernia back into place and may be successful in doing so, and further investigations are usually not necessary.

It can be quite difficult, however, to distinguish between an indirect and a direct groin hernia. Sometimes your doctor may be able to tell the difference between the two types of groin hernias based on physical examination, but often this is only determined for certain at the time of surgery to repair the hernia.

Written and Reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team