What is umbilical hernia repair surgery?

Umbilical hernia repair surgery is a procedure that fixes umbilical hernias. An umbilical hernia involves a bulge or pouch that forms in the abdomen. This type of bulge occurs when a section of the intestine or other abdominal cavity tissue pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal wall 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 the herniated tissue is suddenly cut off. This can occur in umbilical hernias that are non-reducible, or can’t be pushed back into abdominal cavity.

Symptoms of strangulation include nausea, vomiting, and severe pain. The area around the umbilical hernia might look blue, as if you have a bruise. The herniated contents could also become nonfunctional and die if they’re strangulated.

Call your doctor right away if you suspect you have strangulation.

Umbilical hernias don’t always require surgical repair. Surgery is needed when the hernia:

  • causes pain
  • is larger than half an inch
  • is strangulated

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.

In infants

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

In adults

Umbilical hernias in adults may occur as a result of:

  • excess fluid in the abdominal cavity
  • previous abdominal surgery
  • chronic peritoneal dialysis

They’re also 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 generally low. However, complications might occur if you have other serious medical conditions. Speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about having an increased risk of complications.

Other risks that are rare may include:

  • allergic reaction to anesthesia
  • blood clots
  • infection
  • injury to the small intestine or other intra-abdominal structures

Umbilical hernia repair surgery is usually performed under general anesthesia. This means that you’ll be fully asleep and won’t experience any pain.

Some abdominal hernias can be repaired using a spinal block instead of general anesthesia. A spinal block is an anesthetic drug placed around your spinal cord. It allows you to feel numb in the area of the abdomen being repaired. You’ll be less asleep for this procedure, but you’ll be given pain relieving and sedation medications to keep you comfortable during the surgery.

You’ll likely need to stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen several days before the surgery. This will reduce your risk of significant bleeding during the procedure.

Fasting for at least six hours before surgery is generally a standard requirement. However, your doctor may give you different instructions before the surgery.

Umbilical hernia repair surgery is performed in two different ways: open hernia repair or laparoscopic hernia repair.

Open hernia repair

During a conventional open hernia repair, the surgeon makes an incision near your belly button to access the hernia over the bulge site.

Laparoscopic hernia repair

Laparoscopic hernia repair is a less invasive procedure. The surgeon makes several smaller incisions around the hernia bulge site. Then they insert a long, thin tube with a lighted camera 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 goal of the procedure is the same. The surgeon gently places the bulging intestine or other intra-abdominal tissue and abdominal lining back through the hole in the abdominal wall. Then they sew the hole closed. Sometimes they insert a synthetic mesh material into the abdomen to strengthen the area.

You’ll be taken to a recovery room to fully wake up after the procedure. Hospital staff will monitor your vital signs, including your breathing, oxygenation, heart rate, temperature, 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 or the morning after an overnight stay.

Your doctor will give you pain relieving medications and instructions to keep your stitches clean and 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 a few weeks after surgery. It’s possible for another umbilical hernia to develop in the future, but this is fairly rare.