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All you need to know about Umbilical hernia

An umbilical hernia occurs when a part of a person’s intestine bulges through the opening in the abdominal muscles near the navel or umbilicus. It is usually observed in infants as a protruded belly button that becomes very evident when they cry. However, this kind of hernia is generally harmless and may resolve by the time the child is two years of age. Sometimes, umbilical hernia may develop in later childhood or adulthood. In this case, they are more likely to need surgical repair to resolve it. 

In this blog, we will learn more about umbilical hernias and how hernia specialists in Dubai treat them effectively. 

Symptoms of Umbilical hernia 

An umbilical hernia is characterized by a bulge or soft swelling near the navel. Sometimes babies are born with an umbilical hernia, which becomes visible when they cry, strain, or cough. While the majority of the time umbilical hernias in babies are painless, sometimes they may be accompanied by pain, vomiting, tenderness, swelling, and discoloration at the site of the hernia. If you suspect that your baby has an umbilical hernia and appears to be in distress, seek emergency care. 

If an umbilical hernia develops later in life, there is a high chance that the bulge could become tender and painful. Under those circumstances, it is best to get it diagnosed and treated at the earliest to prevent unnecessary complications. 

What causes an umbilical hernia? 

The umbilical cord is a narrow, tube-like structure that acts as a “supply line” for the growing fetus. This cord connects the fetus to the placenta, carrying blood back and forth. It provides the necessary oxygen and nutrients needed for the baby’s development. 

The umbilical cord passes through a small opening in the baby’s abdominal muscles during gestation, which generally closes off just after birth. However, sometimes the muscles don’t join together completely in the midline of the abdominal wall, leading to the formation of an umbilical hernia that may appear at birth, during infancy or later in life.  

It is also observed that umbilical hernias are most common in premature babies and those with low birth weights. The condition can affect boys and girls equally.  

Adults who experience chronic increases of the abdominal pressure are mor likely to develop umbilical hernias. The leading causes for this kind of hernia are obesity, fluid in the abdominal cavity (e.g. liver diseases), multiple pregnancies, strenuous exercise, previous abdominal surgeries, and long-term peritoneal dialysis to treat kidney failure. Generally, it is observed to be more common in women than in men.  

Although complications of an umbilical hernia are rare in both children and adults, if the protruding abdominal tissue becomes trapped and can no longer be pushed back into the abdominal cavity, its blood supply may become compromised and lead to extreme pain and tissue damage. 

In case the blood supply is completely cut off in the tapped portion of the intestine, it can lead to tissue death and infection that will spread throughout the body and threaten life. Complications like these are more common in adults. When adult patients experience blockage of the intestine, gastroenterologists may ask for X-rays, ultrasound scan, CT scan or endoscopy procedure to understand the issue, following surgery may be recommended to solve the issue. 

Umbilical hernia repair 

For small children, general anesthesia is given during the procedure to keep them still. Adult patients may be administered local anesthesia during the procedure or have general anesthetic. 

The umbilical hernia repair surgery in children is a fairly straightforward procedure. During the surgery, the surgeon will make a small cut of about 2 to 3 cm at the base of the navel to push the fatty lump or loop of bowel back into the tummy. Following this, the layers of muscles at the weak spot in the abdominal wall are stitched together to strengthen them. For large umbilical hernias, the hernia specialists may play a mesh patch in the abdominal wall to strengthen the area. 

The surgical wound on the surface of the skin is then closed with dissolvable stitches, surgical glue or staples. To speed up the healing process, a pressure dressing may be applied to the wound, which should be kept on for 4 to 5 days. 

Post-surgery, painkillers will be provided to manage any discomfort during the recovery phase. Your baby may be very fussy or sleepy, needing extra care and attention following the days after the surgery. This is to be expected and will pass. Most adults, as well as children, can leave for home a few hours after the surgery once they have had some food and water. However, your gastroenterologist will recommend staying overnight at the hospital if you or your child have other medical issues or find it unable to keep food and drink down. 

In the adults, the procedure can be carried out in a similar way as in children However, laparoscopic surgery may be used for the repair of umbilical hernia with excellent postoperative outcome. 

Once you get cleared by your hernia specialist, you can continue with post-operative care in the comfort of your home. 

Do you suspect umbilical hernia? 

If you suspect an umbilical hernia, don’t wait for the symptoms to worsen. Take an appointment to see Dr. Antonio Privitera, consultant colorectal surgeon, proctologist and pioneer in hernia surgery at Dubai London clinic to get the right diagnosis and prompt treatment recommendations.