An umbilical hernia is diagnosed during a physical exam. Sometimes imaging studies — such as an abdominal ultrasound or a 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 slightly larger than 1/2 inch (1 to 2 centimeters) in diameter
- Are large and don't decrease in size over the first two years of life
- Don't disappear by age 4
- Become trapped or block the intestine
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 know 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 is taking.
- Write down questions you want to be sure to ask your doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Is the swelling near my or my child's bellybutton an umbilical hernia?
- Is the defect large enough to require surgery?
- Are any diagnostic tests needed?
- What treatment approach do you recommend, if any?
- 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?
- Do you recommend any activity restrictions?
- Should a specialist be consulted?
If any additional questions occur to you during your visit, don't hesitate to ask.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- When did you first notice the problem?
- Has it gotten worse over time?
- Are you or your child in pain?
- Have you or your child vomited?
- If you are the one affected, do your hobbies or your work involve heavy lifting or straining?
- Have you recently gained a significant amount of weight?
- Have you or your child recently been treated for another medical condition?
- Do you or your child have a chronic cough?
Aug. 22, 2018
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- Hernias of the abdominal wall. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/acute-abdomen-and-surgical-gastroenterology/hernias-of-the-abdominal-wall. Accessed April 30, 2018.
- Brooks DC. Overview of abdominal wall hernias. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 30, 2018.
- Kelly KB, et al. Pediatric abdominal wall defects. Surgical Clinics of North America. 2013;93:1255.
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- Cameron JL, et al. Ventral hernias: Incisional, epigastric and umbilical hernias. In: Current Surgical Therapy. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2017. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 22, 2018.