Umbilical hernias are seen most often in babies, and especially those who are premature or have a low birth weight.
It appears that babies of African descent have an increased risk of umbilical hernias and girls are marginally more likely to have the condition than boys.
You may have noticed that your baby’s bellybutton seems to protrude more when he or she strains or cries; this is the most common sign of an umbilical hernia. The bulge may be to the side of the bellybutton, usually smaller than about 2 inches.
This condition is quite common, usually harmless, and most babies experience no pain or discomfort. A hernia is described as being a part of the intestine protruding through the abdominal wall or muscles, where there is a weakness.
In babies, these most often heal themselves by the time the baby is 12 months old, although 1 in 10 may not heal until the child is a little older. Most doctors will operate to repair the umbilical hernia surgically, if it hasn’t gone by the time the child is four or five.
These umbilical hernias occur at the site where the umbilical cord passes through the baby’s abdominal muscle. This usually closes before birth, but if the site doesn’t close completely, it could create a weak spot that may lead to a hernia later in life, when other factors come into play.
If you suspect your baby of having an umbilical hernia, get to your doctor to have it checked. Complications are rare in children, but you should seek advice urgently if the bulge in the bellybutton becomes swollen or changes color, your baby appears to be in pain or is vomiting.
An umbilical hernia in an adult may be the cause of some abdominal discomfort and pain.
Excessive abdominal pressure is usually the cause of these hernias, occurring at the site of the original umbilical cord. This abdominal pressure could be caused by heavy lifting, the person being obese, persistent coughing, a woman having had multiple pregnancies, or a build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity.
The treatment for an umbilical hernia in children is usually just observation; sometimes the doctor is able to push the hernia back inside the abdominal cavity during a physical examination.
Surgery for a baby is only warranted if the hernia is large or painful, increases in size after the child is 12 months old, doesn’t correct itself by the time the child is 4 years old or the hernia blocks the intestines. However, these circumstances are comparatively rare.
Treatment for the condition is different in adults; it is important if a bulge in the abdomen is noticed that diagnosis is made swiftly. Adults are more likely to develop complications than babies and children.
Surgery is the usual treatment for an umbilical hernia in an adult, and the recovery time is normally about two or three weeks. It is unusual for it to recur.