Umbilical hernia is a type of hernia, wherein the abdominal walls doesn’t join properly and a part of the intestine or other abdominal tissues bulges through the opening in your abdominal muscles near the belly button (or navel). Although they are mostly seen in infants and newborns, it is diagnosed in adults too. In case of infants, the umbilical hernia is easily recognizable as when the baby cries, the belly button gets protruded.
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Umbilical hernias are quite common and typically harmless and eventually close up on their own after a few years of birth, but in some cases while growing up, they can cause a lot of discomfort and ultimately require a surgical option to repair the protruding part.
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During the gestation period, the umbilical cord usually passes through a small opening in the baby's abdominal muscles. This opening normally gets closed on its own right after birth. But in some cases, if the abdominal muscles have a defect and don’t join together completely in the middle portion, part of the intestine or some abdominal fatty tissue may pop up giving rise to an umbilical hernia at birth or some time later in life.
In case of adults, an intense pressure on the abdominal muscles can often lead to umbilical hernia. This extreme pressure can happen due to accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity, previous abdominal surgery, long term peritoneal dialysis, multiple pregnancies and even obesity.
Some causative factors that increase the risk of umbilical hernia includes:
Age: Infants, and babies especially the ones born preterm, have an aggravated risk of umbilical hernia than adults.
Obesity: Children and adults diagnosed with obesity are more prone to this disease.
Coughing: Having respiratory issues like incessant coughing for a long time period increases pressure on the abdominal muscles thereby causing abdominal hernia.
Multiple Pregnancies: In case a woman is carrying more than one baby in her womb, the risks of umbilical hernia increases.
Frequent Pregnancies: Umbilical hernia is also commonly seen if a woman gets pregnant frequently.
The primary symptom of an umbilical hernia is a lump, or soft swelling or bulge near the navel area which becomes more pronounced when the child is laughing, crying, coughing or straining while trying to pee. In most cases, umbilical hernia is usually painless, but may cause a certain amount of discomfort in case of adults.
Although, sometimes umbilical hernia subsides on its own, if you notice these symptoms, do consult a doctor for a more serious medical intervention. These signs and symptoms include:
- The bulge near the navel becomes painful
- Swelling and discoloration of the bulge at the navel area
If the umbilical hernia is left untreated, it can lead to inadequate supply of blood to the popped up tissue, causing intense pain and even death of the tissue leading to more severe infection or even death. In some cases, it can also lead to strangulated umbilical hernia.
Diagnosis And Treatment
On noticing the above mentioned signs and symptoms in your child or yourself, talk to a doctor right away to get treated at the earliest. The doctor usually does a thorough medical check-up followed by some diagnostic measures to understand the type of hernia including:
- Blood Tests
- Imaging techniques like Ultrasound, CT-scan, X-ray etc.
Though, in most cases, umbilical hernia in children are self resolved within 1-2 years after birth with proper medications and a small procedure by the doctor which involve slightly pushing the abdominal lump back into the body.
A surgical procedure may be conducted in children in case of the following situations:
- If the hernia still grows after the child is 1 to 2 years old
- If the bulge is present till the child is 4 years
- If the intestines are within the hernial sac, evading or diminishing any kind of intestinal movement
- If the hernia becomes trapped and cannot be pressed inside
In adults, if the umbilical hernia gets strangulated and exudes intense pain, the doctor usually treats it by either an open surgery or laparoscopic surgery.