Umbilical Hernia Repair

The Truth about Umbilical Hernia Repair

It sounds much worse than it actually is; in fact, it is so common to have an umbilical hernia, repair is rarely needed.  This condition frequently occurs in infants, but it can also affect adults.

When the word “hernia” is mentioned, most people’s minds turn to the painful groin condition that affects many men who do heavy lifting.  Actually, a hernia can occur just about anywhere in the body.  It is a condition where weakened tissues that surround organs allow those organs to protrude through the tissue wall; causing bulging, swelling and in some cases, pain.  Even though it can happen in most areas of the body, the abdomen is the most common area.  One of the toughest muscles in the body is the abdominal wall, which protects the major organs contained within.  From time to time, however, a weakness or thinning of the abdominal wall occurs; the result of being overweight, an accidental injury or even necessary surgery.  Internal organs, usually the intestines, suddenly find the strong support that is normally holding them in place to be gone; creating a sagging effect of the organ against the wall tissue; often resulting in a protrusion. This is exactly the situation when an umbilical hernia develops. 

Infants are common victims of an umbilical hernia.  During development in the womb, the fetus is attached to the mother via the umbilical cord.  The cord enters the infant’s abdominal wall through a small opening, which in most cases will close before birth.  In some instances, the rift may not completely close, leaving the opportunity for an umbilical hernia to develop at some stage of life.  For an infant, a hernia may emerge early in infancy.  Repair usually occurs normally in these cases; fully closing by the time the baby reaches the age of 1 to 1 ½.  Symptoms are generally noted as a bulging of the belly button anytime the infant cries.  The protrusion may not be visible while the baby is calm; it is most often caused when straining of the abdominal muscle is brought on through coughing, crying and bowel movements.  Although it may appear as an unsightly condition, parents should be reassured that it is rarely a painful one.  In the occasional instances where the breach of the abdominal wall does not heal on its own by the time the child reaches age 4, doctors may consider repairing the hernia surgically. 

When an adult suffers from an umbilical hernia, repair is generally approached from a surgical standpoint when pain or vomiting is experienced.  In the infrequent situations where these symptoms affect a baby, a doctor should also be immediately consulted.  A physical examination of the individual will be conducted to accurately diagnose the condition.  Surgery is performed to ensure that further complications do not develop. 

The surgical procedure that is utilized for this type of hernia is usually considered an outpatient surgery, with the patient able to return home several hours following the surgery if no complications arise.  The incision is made in the lower abdomen near the bellybutton.  The weakened tissue of the abdominal wall is located, and the protruding organ returned to its original position before closing the hole in the wall.  The incision site will require two to four weeks to fully recover, at which time the individual can return to work and normal activities.  While the surgery is rarely needed for infants, it does follow the same procedure on the few cases that do occasionally occur.

It should be reassuring to know that umbilical hernia repair, when required, is considered to be a routine procedure, and in most cases the condition does not happen again.