What are umbilical hernias?
In newborns, if the gap in the abdominal muscles doesn’t close and a small part of the baby’s intestines pokes through the opening, it creates an umbilical hernia. In adults repeated abdominal muscle strain, chronic health conditions that put strain on the abdomen, muscle weakness due to age, obesity, and pregnancy can lead to umbilical hernias.
A hernia is a condition where your intestines bulge through a weak spot in the muscle covering them. Umbilical hernias happen in the area right around your belly button.
Umbilical hernias are most common in newborn babies. They happen when the abdominal muscles don’t seal up entirely after the umbilical cord is removed. A small section of the intestine will poke through the gap and cause the belly button to bulge out. These hernias are not painful and are not usually dangerous.
Signs of umbilical hernias
The main sign of an umbilical hernia is visual as you can usually see them. Umbilical hernias look like a small bulge coming from a baby’s belly button. The bulge usually isn’t big and probably won’t hurt or cause discomfort. You may notice that it looks smaller when the baby is lying down. It might be more noticeable if your baby is crying or straining their abdominal muscles.
Adults can also get umbilical hernias and they look similar to hernias in babies. You may experience pain or pressure because of the hernia.
In rare cases, the bulging part of the intestine can get stuck in the hernia opening. When this happens, it’s called an incarcerated hernia. The intestine can become strangulated or cut off from its blood supply in this situation. A strangulated hernia is a serious problem and needs emergency surgery.
Symptoms of a strangulated hernia include:
Causes of umbilical hernias
Before a baby is born, they rely on the umbilical cord for nutrients and oxygen. The cord extends from the baby’s abdomen to the placenta. After birth, the cord is no longer necessary and doctors separate the baby from the cord.
Usually, after the cord is gone, the gap in the abdominal muscles close up naturally. But in some cases, it doesn’t and a small part of the baby’s intestines pokes through the opening, creating an umbilical hernia.
Adults can also get umbilical hernias, even if they never had them as babies.
There are several reasons that adults can develop umbilical hernias, including:
When to see the doctor for umbilical hernias
If a hernia is strangulated, you need to see a doctor right away. A strangulated hernia needs emergency surgery to repair. Otherwise, the intestine can lose blood supply and the tissue starts to die. Once that happens, your surgeon will need to remove that part of the intestine.
Diagnosis of umbilical hernias
A doctor can identify an umbilical hernia by examining it. They may press on it gently to see if it can be pushed back into the abdomen. They will ask if it is causing any pain or discomfort
Umbilical hernias in babies usually go away over time. Most close on their own by age three or four. If it has not closed yet by around that age, doctors often recommend surgery.
Adult umbilical hernias do not tend to close up without surgery.
Treatments for umbilical hernias
Hernia surgery requires general anesthesia and takes place in a hospital. The whole operation should only take 20–30 minutes. Most people can go home the same day.
Your doctor will make a small incision near the belly button and move the intestines back into the abdominal cavity. They will then stitch the muscles together to close the gap. Finally, they’ll close the incision to complete the operation.
Complications are unusual, but there is a risk of infection after any surgery. Call your doctor if you experience new or worsening pain, bleeding, fever or chills, or if you think the surgical wound is infected.
Medically Reviewed on 1/11/2021
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital: “Umbilical Hernia.”
Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital: “What is an Umbilical Hernia and How is it Fixed?”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Umbilical Hernia.”
National Health Service UK: “Umbilical Hernia.”
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