Umbilical Hernia : Treatment, Causes & Diagnosis

A hernia occurs in humans when an organ or a tissue pushes out through a weak opening in the muscle or the connective tissue, and ends up where it shouldn’t normally be. There are several types of hernias. In this article, we are going to give a short overview of Umbilical Hernia.

RELATED: What is Hernia?

What is an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia is a in which the intestines project out through the abdominal muscles near the belly button (navel). This type of hernia is prevalent among infants. But also, an umbilical hernia occurs in adult men and women too.

About 20% of new-borns are born with an umbilical hernia. It goes unnoticed because the umbilical hernia is painless and does not cause much trouble; colloquially referred to as just an “outey” as opposed to an “Inny” kind .

Who is affected by the umbilical hernia?

Infants develop an umbilical hernia at the time of birth when the baby’s umbilical cord is not fully naturally leaves a defect in the linea alba the thick fibrous tissue in the center of the abdomen. It normally is supposed to do this, and most infants seals this hole over with fibrous tissue and contract it making it smaller until in disappears.  This creates the belly button or umbilicus with a depression but a firm base at the bottom of the ‘hole’ in the skin.

Umbilical hernia also occurs in adult men and women. Hernia tends to occur more in older men and women due to the weakening of the tissues.

Causes of umbilical hernia

An umbilical hernia results due to various reasons in adults. Potential causes that lead to the belly button protrusion are as follows:

  • Being overweight
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic cough or constipation
  • Lifting heavy loads regularly
  • Abdominal surgical procedures
  • Presence of excess fluid in the abdomen, ascites
  • Liver disease

Signs & symptoms of umbilical hernia

An umbilical hernia in newborns, infants and adults can be initially visible when they cough, cry, or strain to act such as passing stools (Valsalva manoeuvre) . As time passes, the hernia may be visible all the time either as a bulge outwards with standing or flat when lying down. In adults, the common symptom is sticking out of the belly button which can cause  pain from none to severe at the hernia site. In some cases, the bulge may also be sore, swollen, and discolored, red, or dark blue.  This latter look is of great concern and you should seek medical advice.

Complications due to umbilical hernia:

As umbilical hernia happens mostly in infants, there are no major complications associated with it. In adults, and may contain nothing or some fat that lies on top of the bowel (omentum) may be inside the bulge. Rarely, usually when the hernia has been around for a long time, the defect or opening can get so large so as to contain intestine.   Usually, though it returns back inside when people lie down.

An umbilical hernia may lead to the trapping of some fat or intestine that does not allow its return to its usual location inside the abdomen.  This is called an incarcerated hernia.

Rarely people develop increasing pain, nausea, vomiting and the bowel and the fat or intestine  can even begin to have problems staying alive and healing because the blood can’t drain out of the healthy tissue.  This strangulation of the intestine that requires immediate operation as it can be life-threatening.

How to diagnose umbilical hernia?

A simple physical examination will reveal the existence of an umbilical hernia.  Physicians will be able to easily identify whether the hernia is present or not. Generally the very presence of a hernia requires its repair but many prefer to watch and wait, see if continues to get bigger or begins to hurt.  Either approach is reasonable.

Treatment for umbilical hernia

Surgery is strongly recommended when the the omentum or  intestines are trapped or if it causes symptoms.

Hernia repair is one of the most advanced surgery methods to treat hernia and should always be done without using an artificial mesh whenever possible. This method is welcomed and preferred by many patients because the recurrence rate is less than 0.5% based on decades of clinical data.  When the defect, the hole, is too big or wide then mesh is necessary.  Bringing tissues together under tension, pulling tissues with suture when the tissues naturally pull back in the opposite direction, is a recipe for failure.

No matter which method, used hernia repairs, can bleed, get infected, pull apart either at the skin or at the site of the repair (dehiscence) or fail to get rid of the defect in the short, medium or long term.

When to consult a doctor 

… when you have one!


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