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Umbilical hernia

3-minute read

What is an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia is a soft lump under the skin at or around the belly button. Umbilical hernias are common in babies and small children, and often disappear as the child gets older. In older children or adults, an operation may be required.

It happens when tissue from the intestines pushes through an abnormal opening of the muscles around the belly button.

What are the symptoms of an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia is a soft lump or bulge under the skin. This may be visible when your child strains, lifts something heavy or coughs.

Most people with an umbilical hernia have no pain or discomfort.

What causes an umbilical hernia?

In babies, umbilical hernias happen because there is a delay after birth in closing the small opening around in the belly wall around the belly button. They are more common in babies who are born with a low birth weight or prematurely.

In adults, umbilical hernias may happen when there is a weakness in the wall of the abdomen. This can happen due to pregnancy, being very overweight, or having surgery.

When should I see my doctor?

All children with a hernia should see a doctor, as there may be complications.

Seek urgent medication attention if you or your child have an umbilical hernia and:

  • sudden, severe pain that’s getting worse
  • pain when you press on the hernia
  • nausea and vomiting
  • the skin around the hernia is red or purple
  • constipation
  • blood in stools (poo)

How is an umbilical hernia diagnosed?

An umbilical is diagnosed with a physical examination.

How is an umbilical hernia treated?

Most umbilical hernias close by the time the child is 2 to 5 years old. If the hernia hasn’t closed by then, or if it is very large, surgery may be needed to repair the hole in the belly wall.

If an adult has an umbilical hernia, surgery will be needed. If the hernia is strangulated (see ‘Complications of an umbilical hernia’ below) then surgery is done as soon as possible.

Can an umbilical hernia be prevented?

Adults are more at risk of developing an umbilical hernia if they are obese or have had surgery that weakens the wall of the belly.

If you already have an umbilical hernia, you can prevent it from getting worse by avoiding straining, not lifting anything heavy and avoiding anything that puts pressure on the hernia.

Complications of an umbilical hernia

Sometimes an umbilical hernia can cut off blood flow to the tissues. This is called a strangulated hernia. The tissue can start to die, so emergency medical treatment is needed.

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Last reviewed: March 2020

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