One of the many overlooked health problems related to weight gain and obesity is the problem of incisional hernias. Incisional hernias are a common form of the broader category of ventral hernias, meaning an abnormal bulge protruding through the muscular tendinous layer of the abdominal wall. Ventral hernias may be congenital, protruding through naturally occurring weak spots of the abdominal wall such as the umbilicus and the midline areas where muscles fuse during development. Or, ventral hernias may occur in weakened areas of the abdominal wall that occur as a result of surgery.
Surgical incision sites are closed well after surgery, but they never regain the full strength of the natural musculotendinous strength-layer of the abdominal wall. Over time the strength of the closure site reaches around 95% of its original. During the healing phase and for years to come, if significant stress is placed upon the abdominal wall then the muscles and tendons in the closure area can separate creating a weak spot or hernia through which the abdominal tissues can protrude. This is known as an incisional hernia. Such protrusions are much more likely to occur with weight gain and obesity.
Dangers Of Ventral Hernias
The problem with ventral hernias of all kinds and incisional hernias in particular, is that they can produce abdominal pain, enlarge over time, produce obstruction of the intestines and, in rare occasions create strangulation of the intestines, which can be life threatening. Strangulation occurs when the intestine becomes caught within the fibrous neck of the hernia and while entrapped becomes swollen and damaged leading to ischemia – loss of blood supply of the intestines – and dangerous infection, perforation or sepsis. This does not occur often, but it is important rationale arguing for the repair of these hernias to be done when feasible.
Repairing Incisional Hernias
In the last decade advances have been made in the repair techniques of incisional hernias. Traditionally these have been repaired with an open incision through the previous scar or over the bulge. The contents of bulging tissues are pushed back into the abdomen. The edges of the muscle or tendinous neck are sewn together if possible and then a type of synthetic mesh material is placed to further strengthen the muscle layer. In more recent years, I, and other pioneering surgeons around the country have utilized laparoscopy to repair even large and complex incisional hernias with a much less invasive technique. The laparoscopy involves placement of a camera and additional ports through small keyhole type incisions to work from the inside of the abdomen, reduce the bulging contents of the hernia back internally where they belong and create the mesh repair from the inside.
Differences in Types of Repairs of Incisional Hernias
Traditional open repairs involve the disadvantage of a larger scar that comes from open surgery. This translates into more hospital time and more recovery time in the weeks following surgery. The larger wound also creates a greater opportunity for wound infection, an especially common complication in obese individuals. Some surgeons have historically preferred the open technique because they are accustomed to this type of exposure and they try to close the muscles and tendons back together even if this occurs under tension. Open surgical repairs of ventral and incisional hernias have historically had a significant rate of recurrence of the ventral hernia over time as well as other complications stemming from the more major abdominal surgery required.
The laparoscopic or minimally invasive approach has several advantages and differences.