Hernias and Peritoneal Dialysis

If you were to think of your abdominal wall, you might picture a solid sheet of muscle. That's just what you should have to keep your bowel where it belongs. But sometimes there is a chink in your muscle armor—a small tear that can let the inner lining of your abdomen push through. This tear is a hernia. Hernias can occur more often if you do peritoneal dialysis (PD).

Types of hernias


There are four main types of hernia that are more likely to occur on PD: 1

Direct or indirect inguinal hernia
Exit site hernia
where the catheter comes out of your body
Umbilical hernia
belly button
Incisional hernia
any other spot where you have had surgery on your abdomen

When you do PD, umbilical and inguinal hernias are the most common types.

What to watch for

You can often see the bulge of a hernia. An umbilical hernia looks as if an "innie" belly button has become an "outie." Call your doctor if you notice any new bumps or bulges in your belly. An inguinal hernia will bulge down into the groin, where you can feel it, but may not be able to see it.

Having a hernia can cause pain while lifting, or a dull ache. On PD, two hernia problems can also become serious:

A loop of bowel is caught
A hernia is "strangulated" when part of the bowel comes through the hole and is trapped. If the blood supply is cut off to the bowel, gangrene can occur. This is a life-threatening emergency—and a good reason to have a hernia fixed sooner rather than later.
PD fluid leaks out
Having PD fluid in your belly raises the pressure in your abdomen. Plus, extra fluid is present that can leak out. With a hernia, PD fluid may leak at the catheter exit site. Or, in men, an inguinal hernia that leaks due to the pressure of PD fluid in the belly can lead to painful swelling of the scrotum. Special X-ray imaging can help find this problem.

Hernia risk factors

Hernia Anyone can have one or more hernias. In fact, 73% of hernias in people on PD occur before the start of treatment. 2 Any surgery to your abdomen can leave a weak spot that may be more prone to a hernia down the road. Other factors have also been linked to a higher risk of hernia—whether or not you are on PD. These include:

If you have any of these risk factors and have not started PD, ask your doctor to check for hernias so they can be fixed first.

On PD, you can reduce your risk of a hernia if you avoid things that increase pressure in your abdomen, like:

Hernia repair: What to expect

The good news is, hernias can be fixed. If you are on PD—or want to start—there are a number of good options for you.

Hernia repair on PD works best if a strong, sterile surgical mesh is used to close the tear in the muscle wall. In one 4-year study, 12% of hernias that were fixed without the mesh came back. None of the mesh repaired hernias did. 8

Hernia General anesthesia is used for a hernia repair. The surgeon may use a laparoscope to see inside your belly, or may do an open repair, with a larger incision. A very large hernia might mean you will have a drain tube. You may be in the hospital for 4 to 10 days, based on how the surgery is done.

Afterward, you'll have pain pills to take. You'll need to keep your stitches dry. And, you'll be asked not to drive or to lift anything heavy (over 10 lbs.) for 4-6 weeks.

If you have not yet begun PD and have a hernia, a surgeon may be able to fix it and place a PD catheter at the same time. This has been done with inguinal hernias9, and may be possible with other types as well. (Avoid having a PD catheter placed in the mid-line of your belly, which may be weaker than the sides.)

Doing PD after a hernia repair

Once on PD, you may worry that having a hernia fixed means you must use standard in-center hemodialysis until you are healed. Not true! One option after surgery is to use low-volume, recumbent-only (LVRO) PD. 10 This means using smaller fills and only doing exchanges while you lie down to reduce the pressure in your abdomen.

Another option is to do an exchange the day of the surgery, no dialysis for 48 hours, then slowly restart PD. In one study, patients did CAPD 3 days a week (10 hours) for 2 weeks, then smaller fills for 2 weeks, and were back to the normal prescription by 4 weeks. On a cycler, exchanges were done 3 days a week for one week, then every other night for 4 weeks. None of the 50 patients had a leak, and none of their hernias came back early due to the PD. 11

No one wants to have a hernia, but today the chances are good that having one will not keep you from doing PD.


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