An umbilical hernia is diagnosed during a physical exam. Sometimes imaging studies — such as an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan — are used to screen for complications.
Most umbilical hernias in babies close on their own by age 1 or 2. Your doctor may even be able to push the bulge back into the abdomen during a physical exam. Don't try this on your own, however. Although some people claim a hernia can be fixed by taping a coin down over the bulge, this "fix" doesn't help and germs may accumulate under the tape, causing infection.
For children, surgery is typically reserved for umbilical hernias that:
- Are painful
- Are bigger than 1.5 centimeters in diameter (slightly larger than a 1/2 inch)
- Are large and don't decrease in size over the first two years
- Don't disappear by age 4
- Become trapped or block the intestines
For adults, surgery is typically recommended to avoid possible complications — especially if the umbilical hernia gets bigger or becomes painful.
During surgery, a small incision is made at the base of the bellybutton. The herniated tissue is returned to the abdominal cavity, and the opening in the abdominal wall is stitched closed. In adults, surgeons often use mesh to help strengthen the abdominal wall.
Preparing for your appointment
If you or your child has signs or symptoms common to an umbilical hernia, make an appointment with your family doctor or your child's pediatrician.
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- List any signs or symptoms you or your child has had, and for how long.
- Bring in a photo of the hernia if signs of the problem aren't always evident.
- Write down key medical information, including any other health problems and the names of any medications you or your child are taking.
- Write down questions you want to be sure to ask your doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor
If any additional questions occur to you during your visit, don't hesitate to ask.
- Is the swelling near my or my child's bellybutton an umbilical hernia?
- How large is the defect?
- Are any diagnostic tests needed?
- What treatment approach do you recommend, if any?
- Is surgery an option in this case?
- Might surgery become an option if the hernia doesn't get better?
- How often should I or my child be seen for follow-up exams?
- Is there any risk of complications from this hernia?
- What emergency signs and symptoms should I watch for at home?
- How soon do you expect signs and symptoms to improve?
- Do you recommend any activity restrictions?
- Should a specialist be consulted?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- What signs and symptoms have you noticed?
- When did you first notice these signs and symptoms?
- Have these signs and symptoms gotten worse over time?
- Are you or your baby in pain?
- Have you or your baby vomited?
- If you are the one affected, do your hobbies or your work involve heavy lifting or straining, or have you recently gained a significant amount of weight?
- Have you or your child recently been treated for any other medical conditions?
- Do you or your child have a chronic cough?
April 24, 2015
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- Kelly KB, et al. Pediatric abdominal wall defects. Surgical Clinics of North America. 2013;93:1255.
- Brooks DC. Overview of abdominal wall hernias. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 2, 2015.
- Palazzi DL, et al. Care of the umbilicus and management of umbilical disorders. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 2, 2015.
- Earle DB, et al. Repair of umbilical and epigastric hernias. Surgical Clinics of North America. 2013;93:1057.
- Barreto L, et al. Umbilical hernia. BMJ. 2013;347:f4252.
- Hoecker JL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 12, 2015.
- Hassan AMA, et al. Outcome of sublay mesh repair in non-complicated umbilical hernia with liver cirrhosis and ascites. International Journal of Surgery. 2014;12:181.
- Cameron JL, et al. In: Current Surgical Therapy. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2014. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed March 15, 2015.