How to recognize an umbilical hernia

Someone touches his belly button with a finger

An umbilical hernia is not necessarily easy to recognize for laypeople. (Source: Vershinin/Getty Images)
While an umbilical hernia often resolves in babies, it is more likely to lead to complications in adults. How to recognize an umbilical hernia.

In the case of an umbilical hernia (umbilical hernia, hernia umbilicalis), tissue from the abdominal cavity bulges outwards through a weak point in the area of ​​the belly button. Depending on the extent of the hernia, fatty tissue, peritoneum or even entire loops of intestine can get into the hernial sac.

Babies are particularly often affected by an umbilical hernia. But teenagers and adults also get it. An umbilical hernia can often be seen or felt from the outside. Other symptoms can also indicate an umbilical hernia.

Illustration of an umbilical hernia
An umbilical hernia creates a gap in the area of ​​the belly button. (Source: Sakurra/Getty Images)

Umbilical hernias are common, especially in babies

Infants are particularly often affected by an umbilical hernia if the gap through which the umbilical cord once ran does not close completely after birth. In most cases, this is no reason to worry: in 98 out of 100 babies with an umbilical hernia, the gap closes on its own within the first two years of life.

Such a congenital umbilical hernia in babies can often be recognized by a bulging of the belly button, which becomes visible when screaming, crying or coughing. Complications rarely occur.

Umbilical hernias also occur in adolescents and adults. These are usually not innate. Rather, they are promoted by factors that weaken the abdominal wall. This includes, for example, pregnancy or being very overweight.

In contrast to umbilical hernias in infants, umbilical hernias in adolescents and adults are more likely to lead to complications. It is therefore important to detect and treat an umbilical hernia early.

Recognizing umbilical hernias in adults

Laypeople cannot always easily recognize an umbilical hernia – because those affected often do not feel any pain. You may just notice a bulge in your belly button that wasn’t there before. Rarely, the area around the belly button is tender or there is pulling pain.

Person with an umbilical hernia
An umbilical hernia can sometimes be recognized by a bulge in the belly button. (Source: Wanniwat Roumruk/Getty Images)

However, specialists can usually detect an umbilical hernia relatively easily during a physical examination. When standing, the fracture may be visible as a bulge. A bulge can also appear around the belly button. When the person is lying down, the hernia gap can also be felt.

In addition, an ultrasound examination may be necessary to reliably diagnose an umbilical hernia or to assess it more precisely. In certain cases, the doctor will also order a computer tomography or magnetic resonance imaging of the abdominal cavity.

An umbilical hernia usually only causes severe symptoms if parts of the intestine become trapped in the hernia gap. You can read about the symptoms that occur in the next chapter.

Umbilical hernia in adults: recognizing complications

When entrails get into the hernia gap and get stuck there, experts speak of incarceration. This complication can be life-threatening: if the blood flow to the intestine is disrupted, parts of the organ can die.

A strangulated umbilical hernia can be recognized by symptoms such as:

  • a hard, touch-sensitive belly button,
  • severe pain as well
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.

The belly button can also be reddish, purple or dark in color. Other possible symptoms include constipation, fever and a bulging stomach.

Conclusion: How can an umbilical hernia be recognized?

In an umbilical hernia, tissue comes out through a gap in the umbilicus area. This can often be recognized by a bulging in babies and adults. An umbilical hernia is more likely to cause complications in adults than in babies. If parts of the intestine become trapped in the hernial gap, this manifests itself, among other things, in severe pain, nausea, vomiting and a hard belly button. A strangulated umbilical hernia is an emergency that must be treated immediately.


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