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What an Umbilical Hernia Is and What to Do About It

Updated on May 7, 2018
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Chris has worked in the healthcare field for thirty years and has experience dealing with cancer, RLS, hernias, sleep disorders and more.

Fetus and Umbilical Cord

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First Reactions to an Umbilical Hernia

When a person is diagnosed with an umbilical hernia, embarrassment is one of the responses to the ugly and disfiguring bulge on their lower belly. What is this condition? What can be done about it? Is it serious? Is it potentially life-threatening? Let's find out more about the umbilical hernia?

Where does an Adult Umbilical Hernia Occur?

To understand this particular kind of a hernia, we need to discuss the human navel and the umbilical cord.

This twenty-inch (51 cm) tube begins with one branch that runs from the embryo's heart. A second branch originates in the liver. These join to form a single tube that passes through the fetus's abdominal wall made of muscle, out through what will later be called the navel and on to where it attaches to the mother's uterine wall.

The hole through which the umbilical cord passed has long since healed when the person becomes an adult. But the site of the umbilical cord's exit will always be the weakest spot of the abdominal cavity wall.

Thumbnails of Umbilical Hernias and a Normal Navel (Click to Enlarge)

Relatively small hernia.
Relatively small hernia. | Source

What Is an Umbilical Hernia?

When an adult suffers an umbilical hernia, we are talking about a separation of the muscle of the abdominal wall at the precise location where the umbilical cord passed through on its way out of the baby's body via the navel/belly button location.

There are three biological structures within the abdominal cavity which excessive pressure could force through the hole.

  • The Intestines—The portion of the gastrointestinal tract between the end of the stomach and the anus.
  • The peritoneum—a highly enervated lining of the abdominal cavity which covers and supports the organs of the abdomen and provides a pathway for blood and lymph vessels.
  • The omentum—a layer or apron of fat which runs down the front of the adult's abdomen.

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The Danger

A small part of one of these three structures may slip through the newly opened hole. Unless the hole in the muscle wall is mended, the structure will continue to work its way out. The results can be extremely uncomfortable and painful. This situation can also be life-threatening.

If the small intestine works its way through this hole, it could become snagged in such a way that blood flow is blocked. This condition is known as intestinal strangulation. The tissue itself may die and become gangrenous which is a life-threatening situation.

Abdominal Contents Slipping Through the Opening in the Abdominal Muscle (Red)

Source

Causes

Any one of the following conditions could produce enough pressure to force a portion of the intestines, the peritoneum or the omentum through the newly opened hole in the abdominal wall producing an umbilical hernia:

  • Obesity
  • A pregnancy with twins, triplets or more.
  • Excessive coughing
  • Excessive straining due to constipation
  • Lifting heavyweight
  • Frequent pregnancies
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Ascites—accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity

Symptoms

  • Uncharacteristic puffiness or a bulge of the navel area.
  • Tenderness of the navel area.
  • Possible discoloration of the navel area

Heavy Lifting Can Cause an Umbilical Hernia

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Diagnosing an Adult Umbilical Hernia

The doctor will do some or all of the following:

  • Your doctor will press on the swollen, bulging navel to see if the trapped tissue can be pushed back through the separation in the muscle of the abdomen. This is called reducing the hernia. Even if the doctor is successful at reducing the hernia, surgery is usually required to ensure it does not happen again.
  • The doctor may also order an x-ray, ultrasound or CT scan if he is unsure about the diagnosis.
  • Blood tests are usually ordered as well.

Repairing an Umbilical Hernia

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Treatment

Surgery is the primary treatment for an umbilical hernia. The surgeon will access the abdomen via the open or the laparoscopic method.

  • Open surgery—The surgeon makes an incision that exposes the entire operative area. A polypropylene mesh is placed behind the muscular wall of the abdominal cavity to prevent the intestines, peritoneum, and omentum from slipping through the umbilical hole.
  • Laparoscopic surgery-The surgeon makes small incisions through which he inserts a camera and surgical instruments to perform the procedure. A composite mesh is placed behind the muscular wall of the abdominal cavity to prevent the contents of the abdomen from slipping through.

The Best Outcome

When a person experiences an umbilical hernia, embarrassment due to the appearance may be one of the results. They may try to ignore the symptoms and hope it goes away. The best response is to visit your doctor and get reliable information. Following the directions of the surgeon, both before and after surgery, will provide the least chance of a recurrence and the best possible outcome.

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    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 months ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

      Jeremy, Mine is causing some pain and discomfort. My doctor has limited me to lifting no more than thirty pounds. I'm not living with that for the rest of my life. I'll have the surgery soon. Then I can get back into the gym.

    • HeadlyvonNoggin profile image

      Jeremy Christian 2 months ago from Texas

      No side effects other than having an 'outie' for the first time in my life. My doctor didn't seem too alarmed by it when he saw it during a routine checkup.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 months ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

      Thanks, Dora. I was rewriting as you were reading, I believe. I wrote the earlier version last night when I was very tired. It really showed. But I'm sure you got the idea. Thanks for visiting.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing this information. Your explanations are very helpful. Hoping there is no recurrence.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 months ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

      Well, if it isn't Mr. HeadlyvonNoggin himself come to visit my hub. Welcome. Sorry to hear you've had experience with this problem, but glad to hear it was a year ago. I'm assuming you've had no unacceptable side effects.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 months ago from Missoula, Montana at least until August 2018

      Shauna, Like Jeremy says, yes, adults do get them. Mine will be taken care of on the 29th of March. You've had three? I hope that is the end of them for you. Thanks for reading and sharing.

    • HeadlyvonNoggin profile image

      Jeremy Christian 2 months ago from Texas

      You can. Mine happened about a year ago. I'm 42.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 months ago from Central Florida

      Chris, I didn't know adults can get an umbilical hernia. I had one when I was 18 months old. I've actually had three hernias in my life: umbilical, surgical, and inguinal. My brother and I are very susceptible to hernias. Apparently, they run in the family on our father's side.

      I hope you get your hernia repaired soon, Chris. They're no fun, that's for sure!

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