What Is a Hernia?
“A hernia occurs when an organ squeezes through an opening in the muscle or tissue that holds it in place. In some cases, the intestines may protrude through a weakened area in the abdominal wall.”
– Dr Ganesh
Hernias occur primarily in the abdomen region, but they can also appear in the upper thigh, belly button, and groin areas. Most hernia conditions are not immediately life-threatening, but often they require surgery to prevent potentially dangerous complications.
Is a Hernia Considered an Emergency?
In some instances, whether it’s in adults or children, hernias can cause life-threatening complications. Seek emergency care should you experience symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, fever, or sudden pain.
Early medical care and changes can minimise symptoms.
However, surgery is the only way to treat hernia effectively. There are different types of surgeries available for hernia repairs, and your surgeon can advise on which one is recommended for your specific condition.
The prognosis for hernia repair surgery is typically good. However, it can depend on the nature of the hernia, the symptoms, and the patient’s general health. Do note that in some cases, the hernia may recur following repair.
What Happens When You Experience a Hernia?
The most commonly experienced symptom of a hernia is a bulge or lump in the affected area. For example, an umbilical hernia occurs as a bulge near the belly button. One in five babies is born with an umbilical hernia. However, if the hernia does not resolve when the baby reaches four years of age, treatment may be required.
You might also experience some pain and discomfort in the area around the lump. In some hernia types, such as Hiatal hernias, specific symptoms may be observed, such as heartburn, trouble swallowing, and chest pain.
In many cases, hernias have no symptoms, and you may not know you have a hernia unless it shows up during a routine check-up or a medical examination for an unrelated problem.
Dr Ganesh: “It’s important to recognise the signs of a hernia and to see your doctor if you suspect that you have one. An untreated hernia won’t go away by itself. Your doctor can assess your hernia and recommend a suitable treatment for your condition.”
An umbilical hernia is another form of hernia that may occur during pregnancy.
Sharing her experience with Today’s Parent, Stephanie Kewin has always been a serious athlete, participating in numerous competitive sports such as basketball, weightlifting and CrossFit competitions.
However, following her first son, Van, in 2014, she developed an uncomfortable umbilical hernia, which posed some physical restrictions on the 30-year-old.
What is an Umbilical hernia?
The umbilical cord is the tube that connects a mother and her foetus in her womb. In mothers, the umbilical cord passes through her placenta in the womb. In babies, the umbilical cord passes through a small opening in their abdominal muscles. Typically, this hole closes right after birth or may be resolved when the baby is three to four years old.
An umbilical hernia occurs when the abdominal muscles do not entirely join, and the baby’s intestine or other tissues bulge through this weak spot near the belly button or navel.
One in five babies are born with an umbilical hernia, but if the hernia does not resolve when the baby reaches four years of age, treatment may be required.
Umbilical hernias may also develop in adults and are much more common in women. This is particularly so if an adult is obese, consistently lifts heavy objects, or has a persistent cough. Women who have had multiple children are at a higher risk of developing an umbilical hernia.
Treatment may be needed to resolve umbilical hernias, especially in adults.
What Causes an Umbilical Hernia?
Umbilical hernias are relatively common in babies. Babies born at low birth weight and premature risk have a higher risk of developing an umbilical hernia.
On the other hand, adults develop an umbilical hernia when excessive pressure is placed on a weak section of their abdominal muscles. These include being overweight or obese, having multiple pregnancies, having persistent cough and previously undergone stomach surgery.
What Are the Symptoms of an Umbilical Hernia?
A common sign of an umbilical hernia is a soft bulge or swelling near the navel. Laughing, crying, coughing or straining may usually make the umbilical hernia more noticeable.
You may experience pain or discomfort if the hernia becomes larger. Other symptoms you should take note of are:
- The bulge may grow bigger till at least 1.25cm
- The bulge may have a change in colour and becomes dark and discoloured
- Inability to reduce the hernia by flattening the bulge against your abdomen without significant pain and tenderness
What Should I Eat if I Have an Umbilical Hernia?
While there are no immediate dietary requirements for managing an umbilical hernia, some habits may assist you in preventing your hernia from getting bigger.
- Drinking more water. Water and other fluids may prevent constipation and strain during a bowel movement. As a recommendation, drinking a minimum of 8 glasses of water daily would help soften stools and improve bowel movement.
- Eating high-fibre foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains may prevent constipation and strain during a bowel movement, thereby aiding you in controlling your hernia’s growth.
How Is an Umbilical Hernia Diagnosed?
During a consultation session, your doctor may be able to diagnose an umbilical hernia through a physical examination. By checking if your hernia can be pushed back into your abdominal cavity, it may also be possible to determine if the umbilical cord is trapped or incarcerated. This is a serious complication as the trapped part of your intestine may not have a sufficient supply of blood.
Should you need further tests to screen for complications, you may be scheduled for an X-ray, abdominal ultrasound, or blood tests to check for infection.
Do Umbilical Hernias Go Away on Their Own?
Umbilical hernias do not always require surgical repair. However, surgery is recommended if the hernia:
- Is painful
- Is larger than half an inch
- Has a reduced blood supply
Umbilical hernias are relatively common in babies. As we know, the umbilical cord passes through an opening in the baby’s abdominal muscles during pregnancy. This gap usually closes immediately after birth.
However, a weak spot may develop in the baby’s abdominal wall if it does not close entirely. The weak spot makes the individual more susceptible to an umbilical hernia.
Umbilical Hernias in Infants
When an umbilical hernia develops at birth, you may notice that the belly button is pushed out. For newborns, the hernia may heal without surgery.
However, your doctor may recommend surgery if:
- The hernia has not resolved itself by the age of three or four
- The hernia is painful or has become strangulated
Umbilical Hernias in Adults
Umbilical hernias in adults may be a result of:
- A previous abdominal surgery
- Excess fluid in the abdominal cavity
- Chronic peritoneal dialysis
They are also common among adults who are overweight and women who were recently pregnant. Additionally, women who have had multiple pregnancies are at a greater risk of developing an umbilical hernia.
It is important to note that umbilical hernias in adults are less likely to resolve themselves. They tend to grow larger over time and often require surgical repair.
In the experience shared by Knoxville Moms, Jasmine Martin, a mother of 5 children, shares her experience in managing her Umbilical Hernia.
“Firstly, I had no idea how common an umbilical hernia is in women post-pregnancy,” says Jasmine. After delivering five children, Jasmine noticed a bulge around her lower abdomen. Thinking that she has diastasis recti, Jasmine was confident that her stomach must have been stretched out so often, leading to a “stomach gap”.
“This belief led me to search for ways to close my stomach gap. Google said I needed physical therapy or a tummy tuck.”
It was only when she saw her obstetrician for her tummy tuck that she was enlightened that it was an umbilical hernia instead, and within the month, she was scheduled for a hernia repair.
How Is an Umbilical Hernia Treated?
When treating an umbilical hernia, repair surgery is performed in two different ways. They are either an open repair or laparoscopic repair.
Open Hernia Repair
In a conventional open hernia repair, a surgeon will make an incision near the belly button to reach the hernia over the bulge site.
Laparoscopic Hernia Repair
This method is less invasive. A surgeon will make several smaller incisions around the hernia. A long tube with a lit camera on one end is inserted into one of the incisions. This instrument is called a laparoscope, and it allows doctors to see inside your abdominal cavity on a video screen. Laparoscopic surgeries remove the need for open surgeries, which require more recovery time and are more invasive.
Both types of surgery have the same goal. The surgeon will place the bulging intestine or other intra-abdominal tissue and lining back through the abdominal wall hole. The hole is then sewed closed. A synthetic mesh material may be inserted into the abdomen to strengthen the area.
What Happens After I Treat My Hernia?
After surgery, it is normal to experience pain around the surgical site. Your doctor will prescribe medication to help ease the pain as you recover.
Tending to your wound would require extra care. You are advised to carefully follow your surgeon’s instructions to prevent complications or infections during your recovery.
Following a hernia repair, you may be unable to move around normally for several weeks, and you may be advised to avoid any strenuous activity. Additionally, you should avoid carrying and lifting heavy objects during this recovery period. This is to prevent adding stress and strain to the wound.
Due to the nature of a hernia and the cause, heavy lifting should be avoided wherever possible, and weightlifting could potentially cause further herniation and deterioration of your condition, so it would be better not to weight lift whilst you have the hernia.
In her post documenting her experience after undergoing Umbilical Hernia surgery repair (open surgery), Heather Hart, an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist and active runner shares how she eased her way back to regular exercising after her surgery.
Schedule a consult with our doctor Dr Ganesh Ramalingam
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