Understanding Umbilical Hernias: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment Options

Understanding Umbilical Hernias: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment Options

Umbilical hernias are abnormal bulges on or close to the belly button. They can happen in children and adults and are generally painless. They occur when a section of the bowel or fatty tissues protrudes through a weak abdominal wall area, mainly near the navel. While most are close on their own, it is essential to seek medical attention to prevent complications.

Types Of Umbilical Hernias

There are different types of umbilical hernias based on their severity and characteristics.

  • Reducible umbilical hernias are the most common, and healthcare providers can push back the protruding tissue with gentle pressure or spontaneously.
  • Irreducible hernias– Also called incarcerated hernias, occur when the protruding tissues are trapped outside the abdominal wall. That can result in complications like tenderness, pain, and potential blood supply obstruction.
  • Strangulated hernias– These occur when there is an obstructed blood supply to the intestines, resulting in tissue death. They call for a medical emergency because a healthcare professional must try to save as much as possible.
  • Infantile hernias– These are common in infants, and they happen when an opening in the abdominal muscles near the navel does not close well after birth. While they are primarily close on their own, surgical intervention may be necessary if they persist over four or five years.
  • Adult-onset hernias– These are common in adults and can happen because of factors like abdominal strain, obesity, or pregnancy.



In infants

During pregnancy, the umbilical cord passes from the mother to the fetus through an umbilical ring. Hernias occur when this ring does not close completely, leaving a weak spot where tissues could protrude through.

In adults

In adults, most umbilical hernias happen when there is pressure in the abdomen. That could result in weak points along the abdominal wall where parts of the small intestines or other tissues might bulge through. Below are some factors that could lead to the pressure.

  • Frequent pregnancies
  • Being overweight
  • Excess fluid in your abdominal cavity (ascites)
  • Previous abdominal surgeries
  • Long-term peritoneal dialysis for kidney failure
  • A prolonged, heavy cough



Symptoms of an umbilical hernia are similar in infants and adults. They are visible as a swelling or bulge in the navel that becomes more noticeable when the patient laughs, coughs, cries, or straining when using the bathroom. However, the bulge becomes smaller or disappears when they are quiet or lying down.

While they are primarily painless in children, they can result in dull pain, pressure, or discomfort in adults. Below are symptoms you should look for, indicating the need for urgent medical care.

  • Sharp, severe pain
  • Vomiting
  • The bulge becomes red, tender, or swollen
  • The bulge does not reduce or disappear when lying down



Complications from umbilical hernias are rare in children but can happen in adults. They can happen when the tissues protruding through the opening become incarcerated or trapped, meaning they cannot be pushed back into the abdominal cavity. That can result in blood supply obstruction to that part of the intestines, causing pain and tissue damage/ death. There can also be a spread of infections through the abdominal cavity, leading to a life-threatening case.

Treatment Options

When you visit a doctor concerned about an umbilical hernia, they will first conduct a physical exam to accurately determine whether it is a hernia. They classify protrusions as hernias if they are within three centimeters of the navel. They might also take x-rays, an ultrasound, and blood tests to ensure no complications or infections. The findings also tell them the type of hernia and whether they can push it back into the abdominal cavity.

Since hernias in adults cannot close independently, healthcare providers recommend a hernia repair surgery to avoid complications. They recommend the surgery in children if the hernia is bigger than two centimeters, strangulated or incarcerated, painful, or does not go away after four to five years.

Based on the severity, the surgeon might perform the procedure as an open or laparoscopic surgery. They also administer general anesthetic. The surgeon makes an incision at the base of the navel and pushes back any intestines in the hernia into the abdominal cavity. They then repair the muscle opening using several stitch layers to prevent it from happening again.

In adults, they use mesh to strengthen the abdominal wall before using stitches to close it. The mesh can be synthetic or organic from animal tissue. The procedure can take between 20 and 30 minutes, and you can go home on the same day. You are advised to use sponge baths and refrain from work and strenuous activities for around a week after the procedure. You might experience pain, discomfort, swelling, and discoloration on the surgery site for a few weeks.

Umbilical hernias are common in children but can occur in adults too. Knowing what to look out for and when to visit a doctor is essential to prevent life-threatening complications. At General & Bariatric Surgery of South Florida, we are a trusted partner in our client’s general health and weight loss journeys.

Dr. Alvaro Garcia, M.D. is a reputable, board-certified surgeon specializing in laparoscopy and robotic procedures. You are guaranteed a personalized medical approach based on your illness and needs, which the doctor monitors to see if necessary adjustments are needed. Contact us today by calling our office number, emailing, or filling out an online assistance form for bookings or inquiries.

Dr. Garcia is a robotic gastric sleeve surgery specialist located in Pembroke Pines in South Florida. Robotic Gastric Sleeve Surgery is performed using the Davinci X-i. Contact our offices today for a consultation.

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