Umbilical hernia: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

An umbilical hernia occurs when part of the bowel or fatty tissue pokes through an area near the belly button, pushing through a weak spot in the surrounding abdominal wall.

There are different types of hernia. According to an article in The BMJ, a true umbilical hernia happens when there is a defect in the anterior abdominal wall that underlies the umbilicus, or navel.

They are common in newborns and infants, but they can affect adults, too.

Although umbilical hernias are easily treatable, they can become a serious condition on rare occasions.

This article looks at the causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment of umbilical hernias.

Fast facts on umbilical hernia

Umbilical hernias are common in babies born preterm.

They are not normally painful, but if they become sore, a doctor should be consulted.

Obesity is a risk factor for umbilical hernias.

Diagnosis of an umbilical hernia can normally be confirmed by a physical examination alone.

What is an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia
An umbilical hernia causes a bulge in the area around the navel.

Umbilical hernias are common in young infants, but the exact rate is not known because many cases go unreported and resolve themselves without the need for treatment.

They are particularly common in infants born preterm. Up to 75 percent of newborns with a birth weight of less than 1.5 kilograms (kg) have an umbilical hernia.

While the developing fetus is in the womb, the umbilical cord passes through an opening in the abdominal wall. This should close soon after birth.

However, the muscles do not always seal completely, leaving a weak spot through which an umbilical hernia can push.

In most cases, an umbilical hernia experienced by an infant closes on its own by the age of 3 to 4 years. If a hernia is still present by the time the child is 4 years old, a doctor may recommend surgery.

In adults

Umbilical hernias can also develop in adults, especially if they are clinically overweight, lifting heavy objects, or have a persistent cough. Women who have had multiple pregnancies have a higher risk of developing an umbilical hernia.

In adults, hernias are much more common in females. Among infants, the risk is about the same for males and females.

Types and treatments for herniaTypes and treatments for hernia
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An umbilical hernia looks like a lump in the navel. It might become more obvious when the infant is laughing, crying, going to the toilet, or coughing. When the child is lying down or relaxed, the lump may shrink.

It is not usually painful in children and infants. However, adults may feel pain or discomfort if a hernia is large.

When to see a doctor:

Visit a physician in the following cases:

The bulge becomes painful.

Vomiting occurs, accompanied by a bulge.

The bulge swells up more or becomes discolored.

You used to be able to push the bulge flat against the abdomen, but now it cannot be reduced without significant pain or tenderness.

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Risk factors

The major risk factors for umbilical hernias are:

Age: Infants, especially those born preterm, have a higher risk of an umbilical hernia than adults.

Obesity: Children and adults with obesity face a significantly higher risk of developing an umbilical hernia, compared with individuals of normal weight for their height and age.

Coughing: Having a cough for a long period of time can increase the risk of hernias, because the force of coughing applies pressure to the abdominal wall.

Multiple pregnancies: When a woman is carrying more than one baby as part of a pregnancy, the risk of an umbilical hernia is higher.

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