I Ignored My Doctor's Advice to Treat My Hernia—and It Almost Killed Me

After ignoring her doctor's recommendation to undergo treatment for a hernia in her abdomen, one woman developed severe complications that nearly killed her.

This writer is part of Health.com's contributor network.

My Hernia Symptoms

I grabbed the side of my car, steadying myself before I walked inside my house. The stabbing pain in my abdomen increased with every step, but I figured I'd feel fine by the time my kids came home from school. Sweat poured down my face as I stumbled into the bathroom, dizzy and disoriented. I vomited several times, tears streaming down my face as I prayed for relief from my symptoms.

Relief didn't come, so I slowly walked to my bed, positioning myself gently on the comforter. A burning, stabbing pain pierced my abdomen. I rolled to my left side, then my right, hoping to alleviate the continuous pain, but it persisted. It was excruciating—worse than the time I had kidney stones, worse than the aftermath of my three C-sections.

I frantically racked my brain to remember if I had recently eaten some unhealthy food or strained myself doing something around the house. I thought about what was in my cupboard, wondering if maybe a new supplement or vitamin was the culprit. Then it hit me: It was my untreated hernia.

My Hernia Diagnosis

Years ago, my doctor had warned me that my hernia—a condition that results from internal tissues, an organ, or parts of the intestines pushing their way through a weak spot in nearby muscle—could get worse if I didn't treat it, but I foolishly ignored his advice. According to the FDA, the only treatment options for hernias are surgical.

My doctor recommended I get a mesh implant to support the impacted tissue, but I was uninsured at the time and had three kids to raise, so surgery just didn't seem feasible. My only non-surgical option was to watch my hernia to see if the bulge grew or began to cause problems.

I regretted that decision when the pain became that intense. I somehow managed to drive myself to the emergency room and let the nurses know I suspected an untreated hernia was the cause of my severe pain. A CT scan confirmed my suspicions, but the news was scarier than I expected. I had an incarcerated hernia, meaning it was trapped within the muscle wall, and it had become strangulated, so blood couldn't reach the affected tissue.

According to experts in the British Medical Journal, the pain from a strangulated hernia could cause shock, and the toxic material from my guts could spread in my body. It was a life-threatening condition. I was told I needed emergency surgery as soon as possible.

Hernia Treatment

I underwent open hernia repair surgery and woke up surrounded by crying family members. A medical professional gently explained that I could have died if I had waited another 24 hours to go to the hospital. I had a severe infection in my colon that was going to require several weeks of antibiotics, and I needed to stay in the hospital for some time to recover.

The good news: I had successfully received a mesh implant crafted from polypropylene (the same material used to make certain types of home furnishings; I like to joke that I've outfitted my digestive system with modern décor).

It's been a year since the terrifying incident, and I'm insanely thankful I made it to the hospital in time. But I'm also frustrated with myself for not treating my hernia sooner. I likely could have prevented the entire situation from happening if I had taken my doctor's advice. Many other people will likely face a similar situation—according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), 27% of men and 3% of women will develop an inguinal (groin) hernia, and this risk only increases with age. Many of these inguinal hernias can, in turn, become incarcerated and strangulated.

Staying Safe with Hernias

I hope my experience will encourage others to seek treatment for hernias, as well as educate themselves on the symptoms of a potentially dangerous complication like the one I had.

According to a 2022 Surgical Endoscopy review, the risk of death after emergency surgery was 26 times higher than elective surgery (if patients chose to have surgery before their hernias became life-threatening).

However, if you prefer to watch your hernia, learn the symptoms of an emergency. The NIDDK recommends getting immediate medical help if you have a fever, abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, or vomiting. You should also seek emergency help if your hernia becomes red, is suddenly or severely tender, or suddenly grows. Remembering and educating yourself on this important information might just save your life.

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