Umbi­li­cal her­nia

Umbilical hernia
Umbilical hernia

An umbilical hernia is normally harmless and most common in infants. The condition occurs when part of the intestine protrudes through the umbilical opening in the abdominal muscles. If umbilical hernia develops in adults, it probably gets worse over time if not treated.

Symptoms of umbilical hernia


If the baby's bellybutton protrudes while crying, coughing or straining, it’s a classic sign of an umbilical hernia. As soon as the baby is calm or lies on the back, the bulge might disappear. In few cases, symptoms might also include vomiting and a tender, swollen or discolored bulge. But, normally, the condition doesn’t cause pain to the baby.


However, umbilical hernias in adults may lead to abdominal discomfort. The affected person probably has a painful or tender bulge near the navel. Prompt diagnosis and treatment may help prevent complications.

Causes and origin of umbilical hernia


In a pregnant woman, the umbilical cord passes through an opening in the baby's abdomen. Usually, this opening closes shortly after birth, but sometimes the muscles don’t seal completely. This results in a weak spot in the surrounding muscle wall. Fatty tissue or a part of the bowel that pokes through into an area near the navel may cause an umbilical hernia.


The following factors might cause an umbilical hernia in adults:

  • Overweight or obesity
  • Straining while moving
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Persistent, heavy cough
  • Multiple pregnancy

Consequences of umbilical hernia

In babies, complications of an umbilical hernia are rare. Problems can arise if the protruding abdominal tissue becomes trapped and can no longer be pushed back into the abdominal cavity. This reduces the blood supply to the section of trapped intestine and may result in umbilical pain and tissue damage. If the trapped portion of intestine is completely cut off from the blood supply, tissue death might happen. Infection can spread throughout the abdominal cavity, leading to a life-threatening situation. A few adults with umbilical hernia might experience incarceration or obstruction of the intestines which mostly requires surgery.

Prevention and therapy of umbilical hernia
A navel after an umbilical hernia operation
A navel after an umbilical hernia operation

Mostly, umbilical hernias in infants close on their own when the baby is one or two years old. The physician might even be able to push the bulge back into the abdomen during the examination.
Kids with umbilical hernia have to be operated if the hernia is painful, bigger than 1.5 centimeters in diameter, large and doesn't decrease in size over the first two years, if it doesn’t disappear by age four, becomes trapped or blocks the intestines.

Adults get surgery to prevent possible complications, particularly if the umbilical hernia gets bigger or becomes painful.

During operation, the surgeon makes a small incision at the base of the bellybutton in order to return the herniated tissue to the abdominal cavity. The opening in the abdominal wall is stitched closed. In adults, mesh is often used to help strengthen the abdominal wall.

Preventive measures

Since an umbilical hernia is caused by a weakness in the abdominal wall, it cannot be prevented. If a hernia is suspected, a doctor should always be consulted to exclude the risk of incarceration. Although usually no treatment is necessary in young children, a doctor should always examine them if they have an umbilical hernia. In this way, complications can be avoided.