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The Symptoms and Causes of an Umbilical Hernia
An umbilical hernia is a condition where a section of the intestine pokes through a hole around the belly button. It occurs where the anterior abdominal wall (underlying the umbilicus or navel) is defective. An umbilical hernia is common in infants but it can also affect adults. The condition is usually harmless and treatable, but they can become serious in rare situations.
Symptoms of umbilical hernia
Children’s umbilical hernias usually close without treatment within the first two years after birth, although it may remain until the fifth year or more in some cases. An umbilical hernia that occurs at adulthood will probably require general and laparoscopic surgery.
The condition causes a soft enlargement or bulge close to the navel (umbilicus). In infants, the bulge may be apparent only when they cough, cry or strain. Umbilical hernias in children are typically painless but may cause abdominal discomfort in adults.
When to visit the doctor
If the baby appears to have an umbilical hernia, the parent needs to contact the baby’s pediatrician. Emergency care may be required if the baby has the condition and experiences:
- Swelling, tenderness or discoloration around the navel
The same rules apply to adults. A discussion with the doctor is important after discovering a bulge around the navel. The patient needs to seek emergency care if the swelling becomes tender and causes pain. Quick diagnosis and treatment can help stop further complications.
Causes of umbilical hernia
During pregnancy, the umbilical cord goes through a tiny opening in the baby’s abdominal muscles. The opening usually closes soon after birth. If the muscles do not close fully in the center of the abdominal wall, the baby may have an umbilical hernia at birth or later in life.
In adults, excess abdominal pressure can cause umbilical hernias. Increased abdominal pressure may be due to:
- Multiple pregnancies
- Past abdominal surgery
- Fluid in the abdominal cavity
- Extended peritoneal dialysis for kidney treatment
In adults, an increase in pressure can cause fatty tissue or any part of the bowel to push through the weakest part of the abdominal muscles. People at high risk may notice abnormal pressure at areas where the intestine or fatty tissue can protrude. This type of hernia is often more common in women than in men.
In children, the case is more common in infants, particularly premature babies and kids with low birth weights. The condition affects boys and girls equally. The risk is higher in African American infants in the United States.
Complications of umbilical hernias are rare in children. Complications may happen if the protruding abdominal tissue gets stuck in place and cannot be pushed away into the abdominal cavity. This restricts the supply of blood to the section of the trapped intestine and may cause umbilical pain and tissue damage. If the stuck part of the guts is totally cut off from blood supply (strangulated hernia), gangrene (tissue death) may occur. Infection may quickly spread over the abdominal cavity, leading to a potentially deadly situation.
Adults with umbilical hernia are more likely to suffer complications. To treat this condition, patients must undergo surgery as soon as possible.
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