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How to Treat an Umbilical Hernia
An umbilical hernia happens when fatty tissue or a small part of the intestine pushes its way through a weakened section of the abdominal wall.
The job of the abdominal wall is to keep the organs behind it contained and protected from injuries caused by impacts to the abdomen. However, some people have abdominal walls that have a weak spot near the belly button. The weak spot becomes a gap that allows small portions of the abdomen’s contents to push past the abdominal wall and settle right under the skin.
How an umbilical hernia occurs
A baby that is in the womb gets nourishment from its mother’s body and through the umbilical cord. The cord runs right into the abdomen, via an opening in the abdominal wall. For most people, the opening closes after birth, but some people remain with a weakened abdominal wall in the area near the belly button.
In babies, a hernia usually resolves itself in a few months or even a few years. However, a hernia that happens in adulthood rarely goes away on its own.
Hernias require treatment when a person is at risk of developing complications like a trapped hernia, where the bowel or fatty tissue inside the hernia loses blood circulation.
Who gets umbilical hernias?
Children continue to develop after birth, so features like the skull keep forming in the weeks and months after a child is born. The same goes for the abdominal wall: The region where the umbilical cord passed through is supposed to seal itself and become as strong as the rest of the wall. For a section of the population, the abdominal wall remains weak.
Some people at more at risk of getting this type of hernia. For example:
- Pre-term babies have a high risk of developing this type of hernia, especially if they weigh less than three pounds
- People that are clinically overweight or obese are at greater risk of developing an umbilical hernia
- Pregnant women that are carrying multiple babies are also at risk of getting a hernia
- Compared to men, women are more likely to get an umbilical hernia
- A person with a persistent and violent cough can get a hernia, as can a person who strains their abdominal muscles carrying heavy things
Umbilical hernia treatment
Although umbilical hernias usually resolve themselves, especially in infants, some of them become problematic. They need to be treated in order to avoid complications that can become life-threatening.
Here are some of the ways that doctors treat hernias:
1. Open hernia surgery
This surgery is done under general anesthesia, which means that a person has to fast for a few hours before the procedure. A surgeon will repair the hernia by making a small incision near the belly button in order to expose the hernia sac.
The surgeon will push any tissue in the hernia back behind the abdominal wall. Next, they will repair the wall. In infants and young children, the wall is usually repaired with stitches. In adults, it is often necessary to reinforce the abdominal wall with mesh.
2. Laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery
This surgical technique is less invasive than open surgery. First, a surgeon puts the patient under and makes a small incision. They insert a thin, lit scope through the incision and into the abdomen. The scope helps the surgeon see inside the abdomen without opening it up.
Next, the surgeon makes a few incisions which they use to access the hernia and the abdominal walls using surgical tools.
Through these incisions, the surgeon pushes the protruding tissue back into the abdomen. They also use the incisions to strengthen the abdominal wall with stitches or a mesh.
Luckily, hernia repairs are minor surgical procedures. They often do not require a hospital stay. An open hernia surgery takes four to six weeks to heal, and a person should minimize their activity during this time.
Laparoscopic hernia repairs take a shorter time to heal, and a person that has undergone the procedure should expect to be back on their feet in two to three weeks.
See a doctor if you are worried about an umbilical hernia
Need to deal with an umbilical hernia? A hernia is often harmless. Still, it should be examined by a doctor if it occurs in an adult. You should also consult a doctor if your child still has a hernia at the age of three or four.
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