Umbilical Hernia

What is a Umbilical Hernia?

An umbilical hernia occurs when a portion of the intestine or abdominal liquid creates a visible bulge in the abdominal wall. It is generally a painless condition and not a cause for concern. Although it is much more common in infancy, especially in premature babies, adults can also develop an umbilical hernia.

It can be caused by excess weight, pregnancies, prior abdominal surgery, the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and chronic peritoneal dialysis in the treatment of kidney failure. In adults it can be painful and cause life-threatening complications.

What are the Symptoms of Umbilical Hernia?

An umbilical hernia is diagnosed through a physical examination, and imaging is used to detect complications.

Symptoms in babies and adults are comparable and may include:

  • A bulge in the navel area that may only be visible while crying, straining to sit or stand and while coughing

Seek emergency medical care if the area becomes inflamed or tender, and if vomiting occurs.

Umbilical Hernia Causes

In infants, an umbilical hernia is generally the result of the failure of a baby’s abdominal muscles to close around the hole that previously allowed its umbilical cord to connect to its mother.

After birth, this hole in the baby’s abdomen usually closes, but if it does not, bowel material or fatty tissue may pass through its abdominal muscle tissue and protrude out of the baby, creating a soft lump under the baby’s skin. Although this condition usually disappears with the hole in the abdomen naturally closing within the first two years of a child’s life, it may persist for longer.

A common risk factor for an umbilical hernia in infants is premature birth or a low birth weight of under 1.5 kilograms.

In adults, an umbilical hernia is usually the result of high pressure placed upon the abdominal wall near one’s navel, possibly through strenuous physical activity utilizing abdominal muscles, such as heavy lifting. In this case, an umbilical hernia may occur at a region of the abdomen where muscles are weaker.

Risk factors for umbilical hernia include higher-than-normal blood pressure around the abdomen, multiple pregnancies, obesity, constipation, prolonged coughing fits, previous abdominal surgery, chronic peritoneal dialysis, and ascites or abnormal fluid which accumulates in the abdominal cavity.

This condition is also more likely among men over the age of 60 and middle-aged women.

How is a Umbilical Hernia Treated?

Most umbilical hernias in children naturally close before two years of age. Old remedies such as taping a coin over the budge are ineffective and can cause serious skin problems.

Surgery in babies and children may be necessary if the umbilical hernia is:

  • Still apparent after four years of age
  • Painful
  • Larger than ½ inch (1.5 cm)
  • Pinched and/or causing an intestinal blockage

Surgical repair is typically recommended for adults to avert serious complications. Surgical mesh is often used to reinforce the repair. When left untreated it can result in pain, infection and intestinal blockage.

In babies, children and adults it is a life-threatening medical emergency. Once repaired the recurrence of an umbilical hernia is unlikely unless an infection occurs while recovering.

Umbilical Hernia Prevention

While an umbilical hernia cannot easily be prevented in babies in their mothers’ wombs, checking in with a doctor to ensure healthy development and birth weight can reduce risk.

Adults, on the other hand, may utilize a wide range of tips to prevent the condition. When working out, make use of proper, thorough warm-ups. Perform abdominal strength-building, stretching, and flexing exercises, and always take long resting periods after strenuous workouts. A fitness professional can advise you on the best routine for you.

Maintaining a healthy sleeping pattern and a healthy body weight will also keep one’s body strong and decrease risk.

Additionally, because constipation and coughing can present a risk to develop an umbilical hernia, taking up a high fiber diet and dropping smoking may help. In the occurrence of an umbilical hernia, one can prevent the worsening of the condition by avoiding strain on the abdomen, not placing pressure on the protrusion, preventing constipation, and seeking medical attention.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017
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