An umbilical hernia is one that occurs in the navel or belly button. Typically, umbilical hernias are caused by congenital defects at the naval – one that existed at birth. Premature babies are at a higher risk of the condition, but up to 20% of all babies are born with an umbilical hernia. Abdominal muscles remain separated through about age 6 at which time, they should close. In a small subset of young patients, this doesn’t happen, increasing the risk for an umbilical hernia either early on in life or even as an adult.
In adults, most umbilical hernias are acquired. Significant pressure on the abdomen in the form of obesity or pregnancy can also increase the likelihood of an umbilical hernia forming. The likelihood is increased if the patient smokes or has chronic cough.
Umbilical hernias often present as a small lump in the abdomen that is more visible when you are standing or performing any activity that requires abdominal core strength. The bulge may be above, below or to either side of the belly button. The bulge may be accompanied by pain or discomfort. While umbilical hernias have a relatively low chance of incarceration or strangulation, both of which require urgent surgery, younger healthy patients should consider surgery to correct a hernia before it becomes too large and more difficult to repair.
An umbilical hernia is repaired in similar fashion to other hernias. In young children, the defect is usually sutured. In adults the hernia is typically repaired using mesh. The mesh does not require tension to keep the defect closed. Rather, it uses scar tissue developed naturally by the body to reinforce the mesh. If there is significant abdominal muscle separation along with the umbilical hernia, your surgeon may suggest lifestyle changes or surgery to repair and correct what is known as diastasis recti.
Most umbilical hernia repairs require day surgery and you are able to leave the afternoon of the procedure. While at the surgery center, you will be asked to stand up and walk around immediately after their procedure. This is to increase circulation and reduce the likelihood of blood clots and/or infection. You will need somebody to drive you home and handle various tasks for a few days after surgery.
A follow up appointment will be scheduled between 10 and 14 days after surgery to ensure that recovery is progressing nicely and there are no issues of concern.
Proper wound care is important after any surgical procedure and you will be instructed on how to care for your incisions. Most importantly, always use clean, sterile gauze or dressing when handling the wound. No ointment or cream should be used unless specifically told to do so by your surgeon. Hands should always be washed thoroughly with warm water and soap to minimize the risk of bacteria entering the wound.
The prognosis for an umbilical hernia performed as a scheduled procedure is excellent. Complications are more likely to arise if the hernia is repaired as part of an emergency due to strangulation of abdominal contents. Most patients return to normal activity within 6 to 8 weeks after surgery. Oftentimes, patients can return to work within a few days as long as it does not require strenuous activity.
We encourage you to contact us for more information about hernia repair and begin compiling questions to ask your surgeon at your consultation.