Everything You Need to Know About Umbilical Hernia

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An umbilical hernia is a medical condition that’s characterized by a soft-swelling bulge at the umbilicus region (belly button). This condition is commonly seen on infants who are born preterm and occur in about 10-20% of all children. Many parents have questions in regards to this condition so today, we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about umbilical hernia.

What causes umbilical hernia?

During the development of the fetus, a small hole in the abdominal muscles is where the umbilical cord passes and connects the mother to the baby. Over time, this hole closes as the baby grows after birth. In the case of an umbilical hernia, the abdominal muscles do not fully grow together, causing the small hole to remain. This hole is called an umbilical hernia.

Umbilical hernias usually close on their own naturally when the child is around 2-5 years old. There are no serious complications associated with the condition and parents don’t have to worry about umbilical hernias in general.

The major risks factors for umbilical hernia are:

  • Preterm infants have a higher risk of developing umbilical hernia than full-term babies.
  • Overweight children are prone to having umbilical hernia as opposed to children with normal weight for their age.
  • Having excess fluid in the abdominal cavity.

What are the signs and symptoms of umbilical hernia?

One of the main symptoms of having umbilical area is a visible swelling or bulge in the infant’s belly button area. The swelling becomes more noticeable when the baby is crying and becomes indiscernible when the baby is quiet. A physician can diagnose if an infant has umbilical hernia by gently pushing on the bulge when the child is lying down. They may also take an x-ray or perform an ultrasound on the abdominal area to identify if there are other complications.

In situations where the infant has incarcerated hernia, a blood test is required to determine if there is an infection in the intestines. Incarcerated hernia is a condition wherein the intestines get trapped within the umbilical hernia. This can cause extreme pain and the bulge may be severely swollen. Incarcerated hernia reduces the supply of blood from the trapped intestine and can lead to tissue damage if left untreated.

If the blood supply is cut off completely, tissue death will occur (strangulated hernia). Immediate medical attention is required to prevent further damage to the intestines. This condition is very rare and most infants won’t have incarcerated hernia if they have umbilical hernia. 

How is an umbilical hernia treated?

Umbilical hernias generally do not require treatment as the opening will close slowly over time. If the hole is still present after 5 years of age, then surgical repair is medically advised. Umbilical hernia surgery is done under general anaesthesia and the child will not experience any pain during the surgery. A small incision is made at the belly button’s base and any intestine present in the hernia gets tucked back into the abdominal cavity.

Multiple layers of stitches are used to close the hernia completely. An incision glue/dressing is placed to keep the belly button in a flat position. Most children who undergo umbilical hernia surgery can return home within a few hours after the procedure. Premature infants and small children with other medical concerns may require overnight observation before leaving the hospital.

Recovering from umbilical hernia surgery

Children who’ve undergone umbilical hernia should be limited with their activities until the incision heals completely. The dressing should be removed within 3-10 days after the surgery. Sponge baths are ideal and your child’s physician will provide instructions on how to care for the incision wound. Usually, the surgical tape on the incision will fall off on its own after the first week of surgery. But if not, a follow-up appointment may be necessary to have the surgical tape removed.

Your child’s physician will provide medication to relieve pain after the surgery. Most children feel calm and energetic once they get home. If the pain doesn’t subside and the incision wound is swelling, contact your child’s surgeon immediately. Although uncommon, possible complications as a result of umbilical hernia surgery are:

  • Re-opening of the hernia
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Infection at the wound site

Most of these issues can be avoided by following the surgeon’s advice on post-surgery healing.

Long-term outlook on umbilical hernias 

In most cases, umbilical hernias will resolve on their own and won’t cause any major health issues. If you believe your child has umbilical hernia, don’t hesitate to discuss the topic with your child’s pediatrician.While all surgeries have risks, umbilical hernia surgery is very safe and there is little to worry about after the procedure. The chances of the umbilical hernia returning are slim to none once surgical treatment has been performed.