Hernia or rupture consists in a protrusion of a portion of the contents of the abdomen (a part of the bowel or its covering, or both) through the belly wall. The common seats of rupture are at the navel and in the groin. Rupture at the navel is called umbilical hernia; that in the groin either inguinal or femoral, according to slight differences in site. Umbilical hernia is common in babies and occurs as a whole in only five per cent of all ruptures, whereas rupture in the groin is seen to the extent of ninety four per cent of all ruptures. There is still another variety of hernia happening in the scars of wounds of the belly after injuries or surgical operations, and this may arise at almost any point.
Causes. Rupture is sometimes present at birth. In other cases it is acquired as a result of various causes, of which natural weakness of the part is the chief. Twenty five per cent of persons with rupture give a history of the same trouble in their parents. Rupture is three times more frequent in men than in women, and is favored by severe muscular work, fatness, chronic coughing, constipation, diarrhea, sudden strain, or blows on the abdomen.
Symptoms. Rupture first appears as a fullness or swelling, more noticeable on standing, lifting, coughing, or straining. It may disappear entirely on lying down or on pressure with the fingers. In the beginning there may be discomfort after standing or walking for any length of time, and later there is often a dragging pain or uneasiness complained of, or a sensation of weakness or griping at the seat of the rupture. In case the rupture cannot be returned, it is called irreducible and is a more serious form. The great danger of hernias is the likelihood of their being strangulated, as the term is; that is, so nipped in the divided abdominal wall that the blood current is shut off and often the bowels are completely obstructed. If this condition is not speedily relieved death will ensue in from two to eight days. Such a result is occasioned, in persons having rupture, by heavy lifting, severe coughing or straining, or by a blow or fall. The symptoms of strangulated hernia are sudden and complete constipation, persistent vomiting, and severe pain at the seat of the rupture or often about the navel. The vomiting consists first of the contents of the stomach, then of yellowish stained fluid, and finally of dark material having the odor of excrement. Great weakness, distention of the belly, retching, hiccough, thirst, profound exhaustion, and death follow if the condition is not remedied. In some cases, where the obstruction is not complete, the symptoms are comparatively milder, as occasional vomiting and slight pain and partial constipation.
If the patient cannot return the protrusion speedily, a surgeon should be secured at all costs the patient meanwhile lying in bed with an ice bag or cold cloths over the rupture. The surgeon will reduce the protrusion under ether, or operate. Strangulation of any rupture may occur, but of course it is less likely to happen in those who wear a well fitting truss; still it is always a dangerous possibility, and this fact and the liability of the rupture’s increasing in size make a surgical operation for complete cure advisable in proper subjects.
Treatment. Two means of treatment are open to the ruptured: the use of the truss and surgical operation. By the wearing of a truss, fifty eight per cent of ruptures recover completely in children under one year. In children from one to five years, with rupture, ten per cent get well with the truss. Statistics show that in rupture which has been acquired after birth but five per cent recover with a truss after the age of fifteen, and but one per cent after thirty. The truss must be worn two years after cure of the rupture in children, and in adults practically during the rest of their lives. A truss consists of a steel spring which encircles the body, holding in place a pad which fits over the seat of hernia. The Knight truss is one of the best. The truss is most satisfactory in ruptures which can be readily returned. In very small or large hernias, and in those which are not reducible, the action of the truss is not so effective. In irreducible ruptures there is likely to be constipation and colic produced, and strangulation is more liable to occur. A truss having a hollow pad may prove of service in small irreducible ruptures, but no truss is of much value in large hernias of this kind. Every person with a reducible rupture should wear a proper truss until the rupture is cured by some means. Such a truss should keep in the hernia without causing pain or discomfort. It should be taken off at night, and replaced in the morning while the patient is lying down. In cases where the protrusion appears during the night a truss must be worn day and night, but often a lighter form will serve for use in bed. To test the efficiency of a truss let the patient stoop forward with his knees apart, and hands on the knees, and cough. If the truss keeps the hernia in, it is suitable; if not, it is probably unsuitable. Operation for complete cure of the hernia is successful in 95 cases out of 100, in suitable subjects, in the ruptures in the groin. The death rate is but about 1 in 500 to 1,000 operations when done by surgeons skilled in this special work. Patients with very large and irreducible hernias, and those who are very fat and in advanced life, are unfavorable subjects for operation. In young men operation if it can be done by a skillful surgeon and in a hospital with all facilities is usually to be recommended in every case of rupture. Umbilical hernias and ventral hernias, following surgical operations, may be held in place by a wide, strong belt about the body, which holds a circular flat or hollow plate over the rupture. These have been the most difficult of cure by operation; but recent improvements have yielded very good results thirty five cures out of thirty six operations for umbilical rupture, and one death, by Mayo, of Rochester, Minn. and they are usually the very worst patients, of middle age, or older, and very stout.
Umbilical rupture in babies is very common after the cord has dropped off. There is a protrusion at the navel which increases in size on coughing, straining, or crying. If the rupture is pushed in and the flesh is brought together from either side in two folds over the navel, so as to bury the navel out of sight, and held in this position by a strip of surgeon’s plaster, reaching across the front of the belly and about two and one half inches wide, complete recovery will usually take place within a few months. It is well to cover the plaster with a snug flannel band about the body. The plaster should be replaced as need be, and should be applied in all cases by a physician if one can be secured.