This hernia mesh article discusses the difference between incarcerated vs strangulated hernia. Many hernias are minor medical conditions that can be fixed with surgery that many physicians tell their patients are minor. Of course, the use of hernia mesh and its resulting complications does not make this surgery as insignificant as represented. Nonetheless, whether you believe that hernia mesh is safe or dangerous, nearly everyone can agree that a hernia surgery is not an emergency procedure and that most incidents of a hernia are not life threatening.

incarcerated hernia

Strangulated hernia, incarcerated hernia

Strangulated and incarcerated hernias

However, there are more severe occurrences of a hernia that can require an emergency operation. Absent this surgery, the patient’s life can be in danger or they can be risking long-term damage to their health. These procedures are extensive and can result in a long hospital stay and physical therapy after the surgery. Some of the more dangerous types of hernias are strangulated and incarcerated hernias. Here is some information about each of these two types of hernias, including the risks, dangers and necessary treatment.

“If the contents of the hernia are not able to be reduced, the hernia is considered incarcerated. A strangulated hernia occurs when the hernia contents are ischemic due to a compromised blood supply.” NCBI To state this simply at the outset before we examine each of the two types of hernias:

What is the difference between an incarcerated vs strangulated hernia?

An incarcerated hernia is a condition that occurs before a hernia becomes strangulated. When the condition has progressed to a strangulated hernia, it is the most serious type of hernia and requires emergency intervention to save the patient’s life. In other words, before you have a strangulated hernia, you are likely to have an incarcerated hernia. Left untreated, the incarcerated hernia can become strangulated.

12/27/2023 update: “An Incarcerated Inguinal Hernia Containing a Gallstone was Found Decades After a Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy.”

What Is an Incarcerated Hernia?

  • An incarcerated hernia is exactly what its name implies. When you hear the word incarcerated, you think of something that is either locked up or stuck. That is exactly what can happen with a hernia.
  • Simply stated, an incarcerated hernia occurs because a part of the intestine or whatever other protrusion in causing the hernia becomes trapped in the sack of the hernia.
  • This is how it gets its name. In other words, the herniated tissue gets stuck and cannot be moved or massaged back into place.

This is another way of saying that the hernia is causing an obstruction. There are numerous symptoms that can go along with this type of obstruction. They can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pain the abdomen and stomach
  • Mild to serious discomfort in the groin
  • Constipation
  • An inability to pass gas

You may notice an incarcerated hernia by a small bulge in your midsection. You would not be able to push the hernia back into its compartment when you have an incarcerated hernia. This Is not an Emergency, but it Must Be treated. An incarcerated hernia in itself is not a medical emergency. However, this does not mean that it should not be treated. Something needs to be done to fix the incarcerated hernia because without treatment, the problem only will grow worse over time. This can lead to a more serious condition when the patient does nothing to address it.

If you have an incarcerated hernia, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. It does not require a rush visit to an emergency room, but it does require attention sooner rather than later. An incarcerated hernia most often requires surgery. The procedure can be laparoscopic or may involve an open incision. Surgeons may use hernia mesh in this type of procedure, putting the patient in danger of long-term complications, even after their incarcerated hernia is repaired.

From an Incarcerated Hernia to a Strangulated One

The major danger of an incarcerated hernia is that it can cut off the blood flow to internal organs. This is where it starts to get dangerous for the patient. When the incarcerated hernia is left unaddressed, it can become a strangulated hernia. This is where a hernia can actually result in death.

An incarceration is one means for a strangulated hernia to occur but not the only way. You can get a strangulated hernia from an incarcerated one but not the other way around.  Smaller hernia can become larger and more critical ones when they are left untreated. You can think of an incarcerated hernia as a middle point between a more minor hernia and the danger of a strangulated hernia. A minor hernia often becomes incarcerated before it can become strangulated.

A strangulated hernia happens when the intestines or the bowels get cut off by the hernia. This cuts off blood flow to them, hence the term strangulated.  The hernia basically clamps down on the intestine. The lack of blood flow can actually kill the intestine. When that happens, the intestine can send toxins to the rest of the body. This can become fatal very quickly, often within a matter of hours.

Strangulated Hernias from Delays in Getting Treatment

Strangulated hernias rarely happen out of the blue. They often occur because the patient has ignored signs of a more minor or even an incarcerated hernia for some time  However, once the symptoms of a strangulated hernia occur, they will often strike without warning and get extremely intense in a hurry. There is not much time to save the patient’s life when this happens. There is only one way to treat and address a strangulated hernia. The patient will need emergency surgery to fix the problem. If the surgery does not happen right after the problem is diagnosed, the strangulated hernia will lead to death.

The Surgery to Fix a Strangulated Hernia

The surgery to relieve a strangulated hernia is a complicated emergency surgery. It is not possible to perform this surgery laparoscopically. Whereas, with an incarcerated hernia, the problem can be fixed with a moderate level of surgery, a strangulated hernia can only be fixed with an open incision surgery. The surgery is intended to release the part of the intestine or bowel that is trapped by the hernia. The surgeon may even choose to deal with the hernia at a later time depending on the complication of addressing the strangulation.  In other words, the surgeon will often limit themselves to the emergency at hand and deal with the hernia later.

The surgeon will not use mesh given that the surgery is complicated. The focus here is more on saving the patient’s life than anything else. The main focus afterwards is to keep the hernia from becoming strangulated again. This could end up in numerous surgeries afterwards.

Make Sure to Treat Your Hernia

The way to avoid an incarcerated hernia and a strangulated hernia is to seek treatment for a hernia when the pain begins. To be clear, the segment of the hernia community that opposed the use of hernia mesh does not advocate in any way leaving hernia untreated. We just want there to be safer options for patients that do not involve the risk of lifelong pain and complications from a defective product that has impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

We are not advocating that you avail yourself of what is billed to you as a quick and uncomplicated surgery in the form of hernia mesh. The fact that a hernia can grow worse if left untreated does nothing to change the safety of hernia mesh. You should take the time to treat your hernia in the safest way possible, availing yourself of medical attention so the situation does not grow worse over time. The last thing anybody wants is to place their life in danger over a situation that they had months to address and did not.

What is a strangulated hernia?

“A strangulated hernia is a life-threatening medical condition. Fatty tissue or a section of the small intestines pushes through a weakened area of the abdominal muscle. The surrounding muscle then clamps down around the tissue, cutting off the blood supply to the small intestine. This strangulation of the small intestine can lead to intestinal perforation, shock, or gangrene (death) of the protruding tissue, which can lead to death.” healthline

Update- 5/20/22- “Orange County will pay $500,000 to a former jail inmate who suffered a ruptured hernia in 2019 after sheriff’s deputies forced him to work in the kitchen, lifting heavy objects. The settlement was unanimously approved this month by the county Board of Supervisors in response to a federal lawsuit seeking $30 million. James Spring, who had been homeless, entered Theo Lacy jail in September 2019 to serve a 60-day sentence for misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine, according to his lawsuit and attorney Jerry Steering. Spring, 62, had a hernia when he arrived. A jail nurse excused him from having to work while in custody, but neglected to give him a written release — called a “chrono” — to show deputies, Steering said. When deputies ordered Spring to work, he told them about his medical condition and that he had been excused. But Spring didn’t have a written release to show the deputies.” OC register