WHAT IS AN UMBILICAL OR BELLY BUTTON HERNIA?
The umbilicus (belly button) is a scar left over from where you were attached to your mother in utero by the umbilical cord. Everybody will have a tiny defect in the deep muscle layer at this point. An umbilical hernia presents as a lump in the belly button. It is caused by a protrusion of bowel or fat through this weakening in the abdominal wall.
Hernias can occur at any age from newborns to the very elderly.
Most hernias develop slowly, but some people describe a lump appearing suddenly after heavy lifting. The lump often gets bigger after a day of standing up and usually goes away when the patient lies down. Most hernia are mildly uncomfortable.
If the hernia suddenly becomes painful, then it is possible that it has become trapped. If this occurs, you should lie down immediately, try to relax and gently press over the lump to make it go back in. If the lump goes back in, you should contact your surgeon and let them know what has happened. If it does not go back in, develops reddening of the skin or remains painful in any way, you should urgently attend the Emergency Department.
WHY SHOULD A HERNIA BE REPAIRED?
Once you have a hernia, there is nothing you can do to make it go away. As time goes on it may become progressively larger and more uncomfortable.
Support garments do not fix the problem and can make the hernia worse.
The most serious complication of not repairing a hernia is strangulation of the bowel contained in the hernia. This may require a major operation to remove the piece of bowel.
WHO IS MOST AT RISK TO GET AN UMBILICAL HERNIA?
Anything that increases the pressure in the abdomen will increase the chance of getting an umbilical hernia. Some reasons are:
- Being overweight
- People who lift heavy weights
- Smokers and people with chronic coughs
- Women following pregnancy
- People with constipation and prostate problems, because of straining
- You may be born with an umbilical hernia
- Patients with abdominal cancer like bowel, ovary or pancreas
- Patients with cirrhosis of the liver
HOW IS AN UMBILICAL HERNIA REPAIRED?
An umbilical hernia is usually repaired by a small incision made beneath the belly button. Small hernias are closed with strong, permanent stitches. If the hernia is very large, a “tension free” repair is performed to cover the hole that the hernia has come through. This is similar to patching a hole in a wall. It is done by inserting a soft nylon “mesh” to cover the hole. This mesh acts like a frame for your body grows strong fibrous tissue into and repairs the defect. The mesh partially absorbs over time and you will not feel it.