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Umbilical hernia

An umbilical hernia is an outward bulging (protrusion) of the lining of the abdomen or part of the abdominal organ(s) through the area around the belly button.

Causes

An umbilical hernia in an infant occurs when the muscle through which the umbilical cord passes does not close completely after birth.

Umbilical hernias are common in infants. They occur slightly more often in African Americans. Most umbilical hernias are not related to disease. Some umbilical hernias are linked with rare conditions such as Down syndrome.

Symptoms

A hernia can vary in width from less than 1 centimeter (cm) to more than 5 cm.

There is a soft swelling over the belly button that often bulges when the baby sits up, cries, or strains. The bulge may be flat when the infant lies on the back and is quiet. Umbilical hernias are usually painless.

Exams and Tests

A hernia is usually found by the health care provider during a physical exam.

Treatment

Most hernias in children heal on their own. Surgery to repair the hernia is needed only in the following cases:

  • The hernia does not heal after the child is 3 or 4 years old.
  • The intestine or other tissue bulges out and loses its blood supply (becomes strangulated). This is an emergency that needs surgery right away.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most umbilical hernias get better without treatment by the time the child is 3 to 4 years old. If surgery is needed, it is usually successful.

Possible Complications

Strangulation of intestine tissue is rare, but serious, and needs surgery right away.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider or go to the emergency room if the infant is very fussy or seems to have bad abdominal pain or if the hernia becomes tender, swollen, or discolored.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent an umbilical hernia. Taping or strapping an umbilical hernia will not make it go away.

References

Nathan AT. The umbilicus. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 125.

Sujka JA, Holcomb GW. Umbilical and other abdominal wall hernias. In: Holcomb GW, Murphy JP, St. Peter SD, eds. Holcomb and Ashcraft's Pediatric Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 49.

    • Umbilical hernia

      Umbilical hernia - illustration

      An umbilical hernia is a protrusion of the peritoneum and fluid, omentum, or a portion of abdominal organ(s) through the umbilical ring. The umbilical ring is the fibrous and muscle tissue around the navel (belly-button). Small hernias usually close spontaneously without treatment by age 1 or 2. Umbilical hernias are usually painless and are common in infants.

      Umbilical hernia

      illustration

      • Umbilical hernia

        Umbilical hernia - illustration

        An umbilical hernia is a protrusion of the peritoneum and fluid, omentum, or a portion of abdominal organ(s) through the umbilical ring. The umbilical ring is the fibrous and muscle tissue around the navel (belly-button). Small hernias usually close spontaneously without treatment by age 1 or 2. Umbilical hernias are usually painless and are common in infants.

        Umbilical hernia

        illustration

      Review Date: 8/7/2019

      Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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