What Is an Umbilical
The umbilical cord connects a mother and her fetus while in
the womb. Babies’ umbilical cords pass through a small opening in their stomach
muscles. In most cases, the hole closes soon after birth. An umbilical hernia
occurs when the stomach muscles don’t join completely and the intestine or
other tissues bulge through this weak spot around the belly button (umbilicus).
Umbilical hernias are generally painless and don’t cause any
discomfort. About 90 percent of umbilical hernias will eventually close on
their own, according to Johns
Hopkins Medicine. If an umbilical hernia doesn’t close by the time a child is
4 years old, it will need treatment.
Causes Umbilical Hernias?
An umbilical hernia occurs when the opening in the stomach
muscle that allows the umbilical cord to pass through fails to close
completely. Umbilical hernias are most common in babies, according to the Mayo
Clinic, but they can also occur in adults.
African-American babies, premature babies, or babies born at
a low birth weight are at an even higher risk of developing an umbilical
hernia. There is no noted difference in occurrence between boys and girls,
according to Cincinnati
Children’s Hospital Center.
An umbilical hernia in adults usually occurs when too much
pressure is put on a weak section of the stomach muscles, due to factors including:
- being overweight
- frequent pregnancies
- multiple gestation pregnancies (having twins,
- fluid in the abdominal cavity
- stomach surgery
- having a persistent, heavy cough
Are the Symptoms of an Umbilical Hernia?
Umbilical hernias can usually be seen when your baby is
crying, laughing, or straining to use the bathroom. The telltale symptom is a
swelling or bulge near the umbilical area — a symptom that isn’t present when
your baby is relaxed.
Adults can get umbilical hernias as well. The symptoms are
the same — a swelling or bulge near the navel area that can be very painful. Treatment
usually is required.
The following symptoms may indicate a more serious situation
that requires medical treatment:
- the baby is in obvious pain
- the baby is vomiting
- the bulge (in both children and adults) is
tender, swollen, or discolored
Doctors Diagnose Umbilical Hernias
A doctor will perform a physical exam to determine if an
infant or adult has an umbilical hernia. The doctor will see if the hernia can
be pushed back into the abdominal cavity (reducible). They’ll also examine the
baby or adult to determine if the umbilical cord is trapped, or incarcerated.
This is a serious complication because the trapped part of the intestine may be
deprived of a blood supply.
Your doctor may take an X-ray or perform an ultrasound on
the stomach area to ensure that there are no complications. They may order blood
tests to look for infections, especially if the intestine is blocked or incarcerated.
Are There Any
Complications Associated with Umbilical Hernias?
Complications from umbilical hernias rarely occur in
children. However, additional complications can occur in both children and
adults if the umbilical cord is incarcerated.
Intestines that can’t be pushed back through the stomach
wall sometimes don’t get adequate blood supply. This can cause pain and even
kill the tissue (known as gangrene), which could result in a dangerous
infection. In addition, if an obstruction of the intestines occurs, emergency
surgery might be required.
Contact your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately
if the intestine becomes obstructed or strangulated.
Symptoms of a trapped or strangulated umbilical hernia
- severe abdominal pain
- tenderness in the abdomen
- a bulging or round abdomen
- redness or discoloration
Umbilical Hernias Be Repaired?
Surgery is usually suggested to make sure that no
complications develop in adults. Umbilical hernias in children often fix
themselves. Before choosing surgery, doctors will normally wait until the
- becomes painful
- is bigger than one-half inch in diameter
- doesn’t shrink after one year
- doesn’t go away by the time your child is 3 or 4
- becomes trapped or blocks the intestines
Preparation for this surgery is minimal. You can continue to
drink clear liquids up to three hours before surgery.
The surgery will last about an hour. The doctor will make an
incision at the belly button where the bulge is. Then they’ll push the
intestinal tissue back through the stomach wall. In children, the opening is
closed with stitches. Doctors will often strengthen the stomach wall in adults with
Recovering from Surgery
Usually, the surgery is a same-day procedure. Activities for
the next week or so should be limited, and you shouldn’t return to school or
work during this time. Sponge baths are suggested until three days have passed.
The surgical tape over the incision should fall off on its
own. If it doesn’t, wait to have it removed at the follow-up appointment.
Complications are rare, but can occur. Contact your doctor
if you notice the following symptoms:
- infection at the wound site
- recurrence of the hernia
- numbness in the legs
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Umbilical Hernias?
The majority of
cases in babies will resolve on their own by age 3 or 4. If you think your baby
may have an umbilical hernia, speak with your pediatrician. Seek emergency care
if your baby seems to be in pain or the bulge becomes very swollen or
discolored. Adults with a bulge on their stomach should also see a doctor.
Hernia surgery is
a fairly simple and common procedure. While all surgeries have risks, most
children are able to return home from an umbilical hernia surgery within a few
hours. Mount Sinai Hospital recommends waiting three weeks after surgery
to engage in heavy physical activity. It’s unlikely that the hernia will
reoccur once it’s closed.