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Umbilical Hernia

What is an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia is a bulge through the abdominal muscles in the area of the navel (belly button). The hernia may contain tissue from the abdomen, part of an organ (such as the intestine), or fluid.

What increases my risk for an umbilical hernia?

Umbilical hernias usually happen because of a hole or a weak area in the muscles of the abdominal wall. This can happen at any age. Umbilical hernias happen more often in women than in men. You may be more likely to have a hernia if other family members have them. You may also have an increased risk if you have any of the following:

  • Overweight

  • Ascites, which is fluid in the abdomen

  • A large growth in your abdomen

  • Pregnancy now or at any time in the past

  • A very long labor when delivering your baby

What are the signs and symptoms of an umbilical hernia?

  • The most common sign is a bulge or swelling in the area of the navel. You may be able to see the lump, or you may feel it when you gently press on your navel.

  • The bulge may get bigger when you bend, cough, or strain to have a bowel movement. The bulge may get smaller and hurt less when you lie down.

  • You may have pain or burning in your abdomen. The pain may get worse when you cough, sneeze, lift, or stand for a long time.

  • The skin over the bulge may be swollen and red, gray, or blue.

How is an umbilical hernia diagnosed?

Your caregiver will usually find the hernia during an exam. Your caregiver may check to see if the hernia can be reduced (gently pushed back into the abdomen). You may need tests, such as x-rays of the abdomen or an ultrasound. These tests will help caregivers decide how to treat your hernia.

How is an umbilical hernia treated?

  • Surgery: Most adults with umbilical hernias will need surgery to fix their hernias. Always tell your caregiver if you have new or worse pain in the area of your hernia. You may need emergency surgery if a loop of intestine becomes trapped in the hernia.

  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These medicines decrease pain. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding if not taken correctly. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. Do not take ibuprofen if you have kidney disease, an ulcer, or allergies to aspirin. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not drink alcohol if you take acetaminophen.

What are the risks of an umbilical hernia?

If your hernia is not treated, the following serious problems may happen:

  • Incarcerated hernia: This happens when your caregiver cannot push your hernia back into your abdomen. The tissue becomes stuck or trapped, which can cause serious problems. Umbilical hernias have a high risk of becoming incarcerated. If this happens, your intestines may become blocked. You may have very bad pain in your abdomen. You may also have nausea or vomiting.

  • Strangulated hernia: A loop of intestine in the hernia may become pinched or strangulated. This means that the blood supply to that area of intestine is decreased or cut off. If this happens, you may feel very bad pain in your abdomen. Other signs include nausea, vomiting, or a fever. You may have constipation or blood in your bowel movements. If your intestine becomes blocked, you may not be able to pass gas or have a bowel movement. If the hernia is not treated right away, that part of your intestine may die. This is called gangrene, and it can be life-threatening.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have nausea or vomiting.

  • You cannot gently push your hernia back into your abdomen.

  • You are constipated or have blood in your bowel movements.

  • Your hernia is getting bigger.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a fever.

  • Your hernia is stuck outside the abdomen and is painful, swollen, or feels hard.

  • You completely stop having bowel movements and stop passing gas.

  • Your abdominal pain is bad or getting worse.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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