Hydroceles & Inguinal Hernias
Hydroceles & inguinal hernias at a glance
- A hydrocele is an accumulation of fluid in a sac surrounding a testicle.
- An inguinal hernia occurs when tissue comes through a weak place in the groin muscle and causes a bulge that may be painful.
- Hydroceles and hernias are common in male infants and even more prevalent in premature infants.
- Most hydroceles will resolve themselves within the first 12-18 months of the child’s life.
- Hernias need to be repaired surgically by a urologist.
What are hydroceles & inguinal hernias?
A hydrocele is a fluid-filled sac surrounding the testicle and an inguinal hernia is a protruding outgrowth of intestine through the abdominal wall. Hydroceles and inguinal (groin) hernias are common in male infants, due to the way the male sexual organs are formed in the womb.
The testicles develop in the abdomen near the kidneys and descend into the scrotum shortly before birth. As the testicles travel down to the scrotum, the lining of the abdominal wall also descends into the scrotum. The lining of the wall then creates an opening to release the testicles into the scrotum and closes once the process is complete.
How hydroceles & inguinal hernias develop
If the opening in the abdominal wall does not completely close, or if it reopens, a small amount of fluid can travel from the abdomen to the scrotum. This is called a hydrocele.
If the opening is wide enough, it may develop into an inguinal hernia. An inguinal hernia occurs when a portion of the intestine passes through an opening in the abdominal wall. An indirect inguinal hernia occurs when the abdominal wall does not close completely before birth. A direct inguinal hernia occurs when a weak spot develops in the lower abdominal muscles.
Risks of a child developing hydroceles or inguinal hernias
About 10 percent of male infants are born with a hydrocele and only about 1 percent of male infants will develop an inguinal hernia. Hydroceles and inguinal hernias are not hereditary. Males born prematurely are at higher risk of developing a hydrocele or inguinal hernia due to underdevelopment of the abdominal wall.
What are the symptoms of hydroceles & inguinal hernias?
A hydrocele often causes no pain or symptoms. While the appearance of the fluid-filled scrotum may worry new parents, a hydrocele will usually disappear within the first year of life without any intervention.
In older males, the hydrocele typically remains painless, but may require medical attention as the child sexually matures.
Inguinal hernia symptoms
About 25 percent of inguinal or groin hernias cause pain or discomfort. One may be able to see or feel the bulge of the hernia at the junction of the thigh and groin.
Other symptoms include:
- Discomfort or pain in the groin, particularly when lifting, bending or coughing
- Aching or burning at the bulge
- Sensation of pressure or weakness in the groin
- Pain or swelling in cases when the intestine is trapped in the abdominal wall
Inguinal hernias can lead to a strangulated hernia, which can be life threatening and includes symptoms of
- Vomiting and nausea
- Sudden pain
- A bulge that turns red or darker in color
- Rapid heart rate
- Call a doctor immediately if one of these symptoms is present
What are the treatments for hydroceles & hernias?
A hydrocele that develops in the child’s first year of life seldom requires any invasive treatment. They often resolve themselves. If a hydrocele persists after a child’s first year or develops later in childhood, the child may require surgery to remove the hydrocele and the surrounding tissue.
Inguinal hernia treatment
As with any kind of hernia, an inguinal hernia will not go away on its own. Surgery to repair the opening in the abdominal wall is necessary. Childhood hernia surgery is typically an out patient procedure. The urologist will make a small incision in the child’s groin and repair the opening in the abdominal wall.
To learn more about hydroceles and inguinal hernias, contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our board certified urologists.