A belly button hernia, medically referred to as an umbilical hernia or exomphalos, is a hernia in the abdominal area near the navel that causes a visible bulge near the belly button. While you may be familiar with this type of hernia appearing in infants and newborns, it can occur in adults.
Causes and Pains
This type of hernia is due to a weakness in the abdominal wall near the navel, allowing the intestines to push through and appear as bulges. In newborns, these bulges may seem to disappear and only reappear when they cry or strain.
According to the Mayo clinic, hernias not present at birth are caused by increased abdominal pressures related to prolonged coughing, obesity, repeated heavy lifting, or pregnancy. Those who suffer a belly button hernia at birth are at a slightly greater risk of developing these hernias again as adults because the abdominal lining may not fully heal.
The Mayo Clinic also says that these hernias are more common in women in their 50s and 60s.
In newborns and infants, umbilical hernias are not considered dangerous and do not hurt the child, says Dr. Lynne Uhring. They also tend to heal and go away on their own before the child’s third birthday.
In adults, these hernias often cause pain because they are a result of strain on the body.
When to See a Doctor
In almost all adult cases, it is recommended to have a doctor treat the hernia, often with a small surgery. This is recommended because adult umbilical hernias run a higher risk of auxiliary problems, such as intestinal strangulation that stops blood flow to effected intestines and causes the cells to die.
For newborns, it is recommended to bring up the hernia during a routine checkup if your child does not appear to be in pain. If discovered in infants, it is best to schedule an appointment to rule out any other possibilities or problems your child may be having.
Seek immediate medical attention if the hernia appears to cause your baby pain, if your baby starts to vomit when the area is disturbed, or if the hernia becomes discolored, more swollen or tender. Adults should also seek an emergency room if the bulge becomes painful or discolored.
If you plan a doctor visit related to the hernia, there are steps you should take to best inform your doctor. The first is to take a photo of the hernia when it protrudes, especially if your or your child’s hernia shrinks or disappears at times.
It is also a good idea to provide your doctor with a list of medical information such as medicines being taken, existing health problems, and any other symptoms you notice.
Be prepared to ask your doctor questions about the size and severity of the defect, any tests that may be required, and treatment options including the potential for surgery. Your doctor may want to take an x-ray of an adult hernia to check for complications.
There is no current way to prevent an umbilical hernia, either at birth or later on in life. When the problem first presents, many common remedies have people take a coin or other item onto the hernia, called “strapping” or “tapping,” in order to make it go away or prevent it from coming back.
These methods don’t make the hernia go away or treat any of its symptoms, and they can actually be dangerous for children. Such applications need to be cleaned regularly or else bacteria can accumulate and infect the area. These infections pose a severe risk because they are close to intestinal tissue, and any cut in this area can introduce bacteria directly into the abdomen.
While not able to aid in prevention, umbilical hernias may present more in people of African descent or with certain conditions like Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome and Down syndrome. This knowledge can help parents stay more aware of the potential risk.
Treating a Belly Button Hernia
Typically, no treatment is prescribed for infant belly button hernias since they close by their own within the first 18 to 36 months.
Surgery is reserved for very few infant cases, but is recommended for most adult hernias. Children usually only undergo surgery if the hernia is an inch or larger, causes pain, doesn’t heal by age 3 or blocks the intestines.
The surgery itself involves a small cut at the base of the belly button, from where the doctor replaces the tissue into the abdomen and stitches the abdominal wall closed.