Umbilical hernia repair surgery is a procedure that fixes umbilical hernias. An umbilical hernia is a bulge or pouch that forms in the abdomen. This type of bulge occurs when a section of the intestine pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles, near the belly button. It can develop in young children and adults.
In rare cases, adults with umbilical hernias can develop a serious condition called strangulation. Strangulation occurs when the blood flow to certain parts of the body is suddenly cut off. Symptoms of strangulation include nausea, vomiting, and severe pain. The area around the umbilical hernia might look blue, as if you have a bruise.
Call your doctor right away if you suspect you have strangulation.
Umbilical hernias don’t always require surgical repair. Umbilical hernia repair surgery is needed when the hernia:
- causes pain
- is larger than half an inch
- is large enough to cause disfigurement
Umbilical hernias are fairly common among infants. The umbilical cord passes through an opening in the baby’s abdominal muscles during pregnancy. The opening usually closes right after birth. If it doesn’t close all the way, a weak spot can develop in the baby’s abdominal wall. This makes them more susceptible to an umbilical hernia.
When an umbilical hernia develops at birth, it may push the belly button out. Umbilical hernias in newborns will almost always heal without surgery. However, your doctor may recommend surgery if:
- the hernia hasn’t gone away by age 3 or 4
- the hernia is causing pain or restricted blood flow
Umbilical hernias in adults may occur as a result of:
- fluid in the abdominal cavity
- previous abdominal surgery
- chronic peritoneal dialysis
They’re most common among adults who are overweight and women who were recently pregnant. Women who have had multiple pregnancies are at even greater risk for umbilical hernias.
Umbilical hernias in adults are less likely to go away on their own. They usually grow larger over time and often require surgical repair.
The risks of umbilical hernia repair surgery are low. However, complications might occur if you have other serious medical conditions. Speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about your increased risk due to illness.
Other risks that are rare may include:
- allergic reaction to anesthesia
- blood clots
- injury to the small intestine
Umbilical hernia repair surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia. This means that you’ll be asleep and won’t experience any pain. Some small hernias can be repaired with a spinal block instead. You’ll be awake for this, but the doctor will give you a local anesthetic to numb the area.
You’ll likely need to stop taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen several days before the surgery. This will reduce your risk of heavy bleeding during the procedure.
Fasting for at least six hours before surgery is also a standard requirement.
Umbilical hernia repair surgery is performed in two different ways: open hernia repair and laparoscopic hernia repair. During a conventional open hernia repair, the surgeon makes an incision below your belly button to access the hernia.
Laparoscopic hernia repair is a less invasive procedure. The surgeon makes several smaller incisions around the hernia site. They’ll insert a thin, flexible tube with a light on the end into one of the incisions. This instrument is called a laparoscope. It allows the surgeon to see inside your abdominal cavity on a video screen.
Regardless of the type of surgery, the procedure is the same. The surgeon will gently push the bulging intestine and abdominal lining back through the hole in the abdominal wall. Then they’ll sew the hole closed. Sometimes they’ll insert a synthetic mesh material into the abdomen to strengthen the area.
You’ll be taken to a recovery room to wake up after the procedure. Hospital staff will monitor your vital signs, including your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Most umbilical hernia repair surgeries are done on an outpatient basis. This means you’ll likely be able to go home the same day.
Your doctor will give you pain medications and instructions to keep your stitches dry. They’ll schedule a follow-up appointment within a couple weeks to assess your healing. Most people can return to their full range of activities within two to four weeks after surgery. It’s possible for another umbilical hernia to develop in the future, but this is fairly rare.