What’s an umbilical hernia?

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Umbilical hernias are common in newborns and can occur in adults. Surgery is rarely needed for infants, but adults may require it. Risk factors for adults include obesity and heavy lifting. Surgery is usually an outpatient procedure and has a high success rate.

An umbilical hernia refers to a condition most commonly found in newborns, although it can also occur in adults. It is estimated that up to 20% of newborns may have the condition. With this particular type of hernia, part of the intestine, usually near the belly button, is able to leak past the stomach muscles. In infants and toddlers, you may notice a rounded bump sticking out of the stomach, especially when babies use their stomach muscles to stretch, cry, or have a bowel movement.

The good news about this type of hernia in a child is that it rarely requires surgery. In most infants and toddlers diagnosed with one, doctors just wait and watch. They are not considered painful, although they can be in adults. Parents are asked to look for signs that the child is distressed, vomiting, and are told to look for any changes to the hernia bump, including enlargement and discoloration. Rarely, the part of the intestine outside the muscle can become trapped by muscle tissue and lose the oxygen it needs to stay healthy. When this occurs, surgery is indicated to push the intestines back and build stomach muscle so the hernia doesn’t recur.

Children may require surgery if the umbilical hernia hasn’t resolved by age four, although surgery recommendations may vary by doctor. Adults usually require surgery shortly after developing an umbilical hernia as adults can find these hernias very painful. The risk factors for adults are very different from those for children. Babies are more likely to have hernias if they have a low birth weight or were born prematurely. Adults can develop these hernias if they are obese or have engaged in excessive physical activity such as heavy lifting. Having multiple pregnancies that are close together can also damage your stomach muscles and make you more likely to get an umbilical hernia.

Surgery for adults and children, unless complications have occurred and intestinal tissue is damaged, may be an outpatient procedure. Commonly, the bulging intestine is pushed back behind the muscle tissue and the muscle is stitched together to prevent recurrence. This procedure can be done laparoscopically, so only a very small incision is needed. Instead of stitches, surgeons may use mesh or mesh to help prop up the muscle wall.

Whether or not surgery is needed, once an umbilical hernia resolves, there is little chance of the condition recurring. While it’s scary for parents to deal with any medical condition a child may have, it’s important to remember that this condition is usually easily fixed and may never require surgery. Even when a child needs surgery, keep in mind that the repair has an extremely high success rate and low complication rate.

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