Symptoms and causes

What is it?

An umbilical hernia, or a navel hernia, is caused by the protrusion of the peritoneum through a weak spot in the abdominal wall at or near the navel. While the foetus is developing inside the mother's womb, the umbilical cord passes through the foetus' abdominal muscles. After the birth of the child, the umbilical cord is cut and the remaining stump of tissue eventually dies off. Although the navel wound heals, the navel remains a weak spot in the abdominal wall throughout life.

Today, many keyhole surgeries are performed in the abdomen, such as for the appendix, gallbladder, an inguinal hernia... Sometimes an umbilical hernia ruptures at this site, even if the opening has been stitched closed after a keyhole surgery. Umbilical herniae are by definition small scar fractures, but they are treated in the same way as spontaneous umbilical herniae.

Diagnosis and treatment

Does every umbilical hernia require treatment?

Absolutely not! Many umbilical herniae cause little or no discomfort. Many people have a small umbilical herniae but are unaware of this. Umbilical herniae can remain very small for life without causing any complaints. So, it would certainly be an overtreatment to repair all umbilical herniae. On the other hand, some people who have a painful and growing umbilical hernia do not seek assistance because they are afraid to undergo surgery. Consequently, certain people do report to us who have a very large umbilical hernia.

An umbilical hernia that is very painful, swollen and cannot be pushed away is a matter of urgency. After all, this so-called ‘strangulated umbilical hernia’ may contain intestinal structures that can die off because the blood supply is interrupted. These patients must immediately go to the A&E. And, if the umbilical hernia cannot be pushed back there either, urgent surgery will be required. A strangulated umbilical hernia, however, is rather rare and more than 90% of patients are operated on in non-urgent conditions.

Treatment

Find out more about the different treatments here: Umbilical hernia repair.

Treatment centres and specialisations

Hernia Centre
General Surgery

Latest publication date: 21/01/2021
Supervising author: Dr Pletinckx Pieter