It occurs when an internal part of the body pushes through a weakness in the muscle or in the wall of the surrounding tissue.
Your muscles are usually strong and tight enough to keep your organs and intestines in place, but a hernia can develop if there are weaknesses.
What is an umbilical hernia or navel hernia?
Umbilical hernias are very common in infants and young children, especially in babies born prematurely. An umbilical hernia appears as a painless lump at or near the navel (navel). It can get bigger when you laugh, cough, cry or go to the bathroom and you can shrink when you relax or lie down.
In many cases, the umbilical hernia returns and the muscles close again before the child’s first birthday. Umbilical hernias can also develop in adults. Without treatment, the hernia will probably get worse over time.
For information on other types of hernia, see:
What causes an umbilical hernia?
During pregnancy, the umbilical cord passes through an opening in the baby’s abdomen (belly). This opening should be closed shortly after birth, but in some cases the muscles do not seal completely.
This leaves a weak point in the surrounding muscular wall (abdominal wall). An umbilical hernia can develop when adipose tissue or a part of the intestine is inserted in an area near the navel.
In adults, factors that can contribute to the development of an umbilical hernia include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Strive while moving or lifting heavy objects.
- Have a persistent strong cough
- Have a multiple pregnancy (such as twins or triplets).
When is surgery needed?
If necessary, umbilical hernias can be treated with surgery to reposition the lump in place and strengthen weakness in the abdominal wall. This operation can be recommended for your child if the hernia is large or has not disappeared when they reach four or five years
Generally, you will be advised to wait until your child reaches this age because the operation is not essential unless there are complications. The risk of your child developing complications is very low.
However, surgery is recommended for most adults with umbilical hernia, since it is unlikely that the hernia will improve on its own when it is older and the risk of complications is greater.
Complications that may develop as a result of an umbilical hernia include:
- Obstruction where a section of the intestine is trapped outside the abdomen, causing nausea, vomiting and pain.
- Strangulation where a section of the intestine is trapped and the blood supply is cut off; This requires emergency surgery in a matter of hours to release the trapped tissue and restore its blood supply so it does not die.
- The surgery will eliminate the hernia and avoid serious complications, although there is a possibility that it may return after the operation.
Repair an umbilical or navel hernia
A repair of the umbilical hernia is a relatively simple procedure that usually takes 20 to 30 minutes to perform. Generally, general anesthesia is used so there is no pain while the operation is being performed.
The weak point in the abdominal wall is usually closed with stitches in children. If the hernia is large or in adults, a special mesh can be used to strengthen the area.
You or your child should be able to go home the same day the operation is performed, but you may feel a little irritated and uncomfortable while you recover.
Strenuous activities will have to be limited for a few weeks after the operation, and a week or two is often recommended outside of school or work. Most people can return to all their normal activities within a month of surgery.
Is there any risk of surgery?
Complications of an umbilical hernia repair are uncommon, but may include:
- The wound becomes infected and needs antibiotics.
- The hernia returns.
- Feeling bad and having a headache or numbness in the legs a few hours after the operation.
- The navel often seems normal after surgery, but there is a possibility that its appearance changes as a result of the operation.