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Umbilical Hernia: Should I Have Surgery?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Umbilical Hernia: Should I Have Surgery?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Have surgery now to repair your umbilical hernia, even if you don't have symptoms.
  • Take a "wait and see" approach to surgery because the hernia doesn't bother you much.

Key points to remember

  • Hernias don't go away on their own. Only surgery can repair a hernia.
  • Many people are able to delay surgery for months or even years. And some people may never need surgery for a small hernia. If the hernia is small and you don't have any symptoms, or if the symptoms don't bother you much, you and your doctor may simply continue to watch for symptoms to occur.
  • Over time, hernias tend to get bigger as the muscle wall of the belly gets weaker and more tissue bulges through.
  • Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents a rare but serious problem called strangulation. This occurs when a part of intestine or a piece of fatty tissue is trapped inside the hernia and is cut off from its blood supply.
FAQs

What is an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia is a bulge near the belly button, or navel. The hernia has a sac that may hold some intestine, fat, or fluid. These tissues may bulge through an opening or a weak spot in the stomach muscles. You may have had this weak spot since you were born, when muscle and other tissue around your umbilical cord didn't close properly.

In adults, umbilical hernias are more common in women who have been pregnant several times, in people who are overweight, and in people who have had surgery in the belly.

Why does an umbilical hernia need to be repaired?

Repairing the hernia can relieve pain and discomfort and make the bulge go away. The hernia won't heal on its own.

Your doctor may recommend surgery if:

  • Your hernia is very large.
  • Your hernia bothers you.

Your doctor will recommend surgery right away if:

  • You have pain, a swollen belly, or other signs of a rare but major problem called strangulation or incarcerated hernia. This can occur when the intestine gets trapped in the hernia sac and loses its blood supply.

What happens in surgery for an umbilical hernia?

During the surgery, the doctor makes a small cut, or incision, just below the belly button. Any tissue that bulges into the hernia sac is pushed back inside the belly. The muscles and tissues around the belly button are repaired, and the cut is closed with stitches.

Usually there is only a small scar, but if the hernia is very large, the belly button may not look normal. Most of the time, a surgeon can fix this. This surgery has few risks.

What kinds of surgeries are used to repair umbilical hernias?

There are two types of hernia repair surgeries:

  • Open hernia repair surgery. The hernia is repaired through a cut (incision) in the belly. Open surgery is safe and effective and has been done for many years.
  • Laparoscopic hernia repair. A surgeon inserts a thin, lighted scope through a small incision in the belly. Surgical tools to repair the hernia are inserted through other small incisions in the belly. Laparoscopic hernia surgery may have some advantages over open surgery in certain cases. Studies show that people have less pain after this type of surgery and can return to work and other activities more quickly than after open repair. But this surgery costs more than open repair.

It can take up to 4 weeks after open hernia surgery before you can begin normal strenuous activities. If you have laparoscopic surgery, you may recover sooner.

When is it safe to delay surgery?

You and your doctor may want to put off surgery if:

  • The hernia is small and you don't have any symptoms, or if the symptoms don't bother you much.
  • The hernia can be pushed back into the belly or it goes away when you lie down. (If it cannot be pushed back, surgery must be done sooner.)

It may also be a good idea to put off surgery if:

  • You are pregnant.
  • You have other health problems that make surgery dangerous.

Talk with your doctor before wearing a corset or truss for a hernia. These devices aren't recommended for treating hernias and sometimes can do more harm than good. There may be certain cases when your doctor thinks a truss would work, but these are rare.

Your hernia may get worse, but it may not. Over time, hernias tend to get bigger as the muscle wall of the belly gets weaker and more tissue bulges through. But some small, painless hernias never need repair.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Have surgery now Have surgery now
  • You may be asleep during the operation. Or the doctor may keep you awake and simply numb the area around your belly button.
  • You may have an epidural, which is medicine that numbs your body below the point of the injection. You may remain awake during the operation.
  • You don't need to stay overnight in the hospital.
  • Surgery prevents the rare but serious problem called strangulation.
  • It relieves the bulge from the hernia and any swelling or feeling of heaviness, tugging, or burning in the area of the hernia.
  • The hernia could come back.
  • Risks of surgery include:
    • A bad reaction to the anesthesia.
    • Infection and bleeding.
    • Damage to the intestines or bladder if the surgery is a laparoscopic repair.
Wait and see Wait and see
  • You will get regular checkups to watch for changes.
  • You watch for signs of problems related to the hernia, such as vomiting, pain, or a swollen belly.
  • You don't have the risks or costs of surgery.
  • A rare but serious problem called strangulation could occur.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about considering umbilical hernia surgery

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I'm pregnant, and I have a small hernia that doesn't hurt. I've talked with my doctor about it, and she said I could have surgery as long as I have an epidural and not general anesthesia. But she said it may be best to wait until I'm done having kids. There's a risk I could get another hernia when I get pregnant again. So as long as my hernia doesn't get worse, I'll wait.

Brianna, age 32

I've had a hernia for a few years now. My doctor said it may have happened because I lost a lot of weight and my stomach muscles were weak. So I started exercising to try to get stronger, and I feel great. The hernia hasn't ever really bothered me, except for how it looks. So I don't feel like it's worth having surgery now.

Kassie, age 40

I've had a small umbilical hernia for several years but have basically ignored it. I'm not a big believer in letting people cut on my body, so I wanted to avoid surgery at all costs. But the hernia is really starting to bug me now, and it's gotten bigger and it looks weird. So I've got an appointment to talk to my doctor about surgery.

Antonio, age 56

I'm a nurse, and sometimes I have to lift patients and other heavy things. One day, after helping a patient transfer into a wheelchair, I felt something weird in my abdomen. Later, I noticed a bulge in my belly button. My doctor said it may have happened because I've gained quite a bit of weight lately. I've decided to go ahead and have it fixed since it's kind of painful and it could be a problem with my work.

Robert, age 45

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have surgery now

Reasons to wait

My hernia is keeping me from doing daily activities or from returning to work.

My hernia doesn't bother me at all.

More important
Equally important
More important

I want to have the hernia repaired while my insurance or worker's compensation will help cover the costs.

I am worried about being able to afford the surgery.

More important
Equally important
More important

I will be traveling to an area where health care may not be available, so I want to take care of this now.

I have no plans to travel to places where health care may not be available.

More important
Equally important
More important

Surgery would be convenient for me at this time.

This is not a good time for me to have surgery.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having surgery now

Waiting to have surgery

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

One reason for me to have surgery for my umbilical hernia is to prevent a rare but serious problem called strangulation.

  • TrueYou're right. Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents strangulation, which happens when a piece of tissue gets trapped inside the hernia and is cut off from its blood supply.
  • FalseSorry, that's wrong. Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents strangulation, which happens when a piece of tissue gets trapped inside the hernia and is cut off from its blood supply.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents a problem called strangulation.
2.

I need surgery even though my hernia is small and doesn't bother me.

  • TrueNo, that's wrong. If your hernia is small and your symptoms don't bother you, you can delay surgery. Some people never need surgery.
  • FalseYou're right. If your hernia is small and your symptoms don't bother you, you can delay surgery. Some people never need surgery.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." If your hernia is small and your symptoms don't bother you, you can delay surgery. Some people never need surgery.
3.

I can wait for my hernia to go away on its own.

  • TrueSorry, that's wrong. An umbilical hernia won't go away on its own. Only surgery can repair it.
  • FalseYou're right. An umbilical hernia won't go away on its own. Only surgery can repair it.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." An umbilical hernia won't go away on its own. Only surgery can repair it.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits

Credits
Credits Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kenneth Bark, MD - Surgery,
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Umbilical Hernia: Should I Have Surgery?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Have surgery now to repair your umbilical hernia, even if you don't have symptoms.
  • Take a "wait and see" approach to surgery because the hernia doesn't bother you much.

Key points to remember

  • Hernias don't go away on their own. Only surgery can repair a hernia.
  • Many people are able to delay surgery for months or even years. And some people may never need surgery for a small hernia. If the hernia is small and you don't have any symptoms, or if the symptoms don't bother you much, you and your doctor may simply continue to watch for symptoms to occur.
  • Over time, hernias tend to get bigger as the muscle wall of the belly gets weaker and more tissue bulges through.
  • Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents a rare but serious problem called strangulation. This occurs when a part of intestine or a piece of fatty tissue is trapped inside the hernia and is cut off from its blood supply.
FAQs

What is an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia is a bulge near the belly button, or navel. The hernia has a sac that may hold some intestine, fat, or fluid. These tissues may bulge through an opening or a weak spot in the stomach muscles. You may have had this weak spot since you were born, when muscle and other tissue around your umbilical cord didn't close properly.

In adults, umbilical hernias are more common in women who have been pregnant several times, in people who are overweight, and in people who have had surgery in the belly.

Why does an umbilical hernia need to be repaired?

Repairing the hernia can relieve pain and discomfort and make the bulge go away. The hernia won't heal on its own.

Your doctor may recommend surgery if:

  • Your hernia is very large.
  • Your hernia bothers you.

Your doctor will recommend surgery right away if:

  • You have pain, a swollen belly, or other signs of a rare but major problem called strangulation or incarcerated hernia. This can occur when the intestine gets trapped in the hernia sac and loses its blood supply.

What happens in surgery for an umbilical hernia?

During the surgery, the doctor makes a small cut, or incision, just below the belly button. Any tissue that bulges into the hernia sac is pushed back inside the belly. The muscles and tissues around the belly button are repaired, and the cut is closed with stitches.

Usually there is only a small scar, but if the hernia is very large, the belly button may not look normal. Most of the time, a surgeon can fix this. This surgery has few risks.

What kinds of surgeries are used to repair umbilical hernias?

There are two types of hernia repair surgeries:

  • Open hernia repair surgery. The hernia is repaired through a cut (incision) in the belly. Open surgery is safe and effective and has been done for many years.
  • Laparoscopic hernia repair. A surgeon inserts a thin, lighted scope through a small incision in the belly. Surgical tools to repair the hernia are inserted through other small incisions in the belly. Laparoscopic hernia surgery may have some advantages over open surgery in certain cases. Studies show that people have less pain after this type of surgery and can return to work and other activities more quickly than after open repair. But this surgery costs more than open repair.

It can take up to 4 weeks after open hernia surgery before you can begin normal strenuous activities. If you have laparoscopic surgery, you may recover sooner.

When is it safe to delay surgery?

You and your doctor may want to put off surgery if:

  • The hernia is small and you don't have any symptoms, or if the symptoms don't bother you much.
  • The hernia can be pushed back into the belly or it goes away when you lie down. (If it cannot be pushed back, surgery must be done sooner.)

It may also be a good idea to put off surgery if:

  • You are pregnant.
  • You have other health problems that make surgery dangerous.

Talk with your doctor before wearing a corset or truss for a hernia. These devices aren't recommended for treating hernias and sometimes can do more harm than good. There may be certain cases when your doctor thinks a truss would work, but these are rare.

Your hernia may get worse, but it may not. Over time, hernias tend to get bigger as the muscle wall of the belly gets weaker and more tissue bulges through. But some small, painless hernias never need repair.

2. Compare your options

  Have surgery now Wait and see
What is usually involved?
  • You may be asleep during the operation. Or the doctor may keep you awake and simply numb the area around your belly button.
  • You may have an epidural, which is medicine that numbs your body below the point of the injection. You may remain awake during the operation.
  • You don't need to stay overnight in the hospital.
  • You will get regular checkups to watch for changes.
  • You watch for signs of problems related to the hernia, such as vomiting, pain, or a swollen belly.
What are the benefits?
  • Surgery prevents the rare but serious problem called strangulation.
  • It relieves the bulge from the hernia and any swelling or feeling of heaviness, tugging, or burning in the area of the hernia.
  • You don't have the risks or costs of surgery.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • The hernia could come back.
  • Risks of surgery include:
    • A bad reaction to the anesthesia.
    • Infection and bleeding.
    • Damage to the intestines or bladder if the surgery is a laparoscopic repair.
  • A rare but serious problem called strangulation could occur.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about considering umbilical hernia surgery

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I'm pregnant, and I have a small hernia that doesn't hurt. I've talked with my doctor about it, and she said I could have surgery as long as I have an epidural and not general anesthesia. But she said it may be best to wait until I'm done having kids. There's a risk I could get another hernia when I get pregnant again. So as long as my hernia doesn't get worse, I'll wait."

— Brianna, age 32

"I've had a hernia for a few years now. My doctor said it may have happened because I lost a lot of weight and my stomach muscles were weak. So I started exercising to try to get stronger, and I feel great. The hernia hasn't ever really bothered me, except for how it looks. So I don't feel like it's worth having surgery now."

— Kassie, age 40

"I've had a small umbilical hernia for several years but have basically ignored it. I'm not a big believer in letting people cut on my body, so I wanted to avoid surgery at all costs. But the hernia is really starting to bug me now, and it's gotten bigger and it looks weird. So I've got an appointment to talk to my doctor about surgery."

— Antonio, age 56

"I'm a nurse, and sometimes I have to lift patients and other heavy things. One day, after helping a patient transfer into a wheelchair, I felt something weird in my abdomen. Later, I noticed a bulge in my belly button. My doctor said it may have happened because I've gained quite a bit of weight lately. I've decided to go ahead and have it fixed since it's kind of painful and it could be a problem with my work."

— Robert, age 45

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to have surgery now

Reasons to wait

My hernia is keeping me from doing daily activities or from returning to work.

My hernia doesn't bother me at all.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I want to have the hernia repaired while my insurance or worker's compensation will help cover the costs.

I am worried about being able to afford the surgery.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I will be traveling to an area where health care may not be available, so I want to take care of this now.

I have no plans to travel to places where health care may not be available.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

Surgery would be convenient for me at this time.

This is not a good time for me to have surgery.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Having surgery now

Waiting to have surgery

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. One reason for me to have surgery for my umbilical hernia is to prevent a rare but serious problem called strangulation.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. Many doctors recommend surgery because it prevents strangulation, which happens when a piece of tissue gets trapped inside the hernia and is cut off from its blood supply.

2. I need surgery even though my hernia is small and doesn't bother me.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. If your hernia is small and your symptoms don't bother you, you can delay surgery. Some people never need surgery.

3. I can wait for my hernia to go away on its own.

  • True
  • False
  • I'm not sure
You're right. An umbilical hernia won't go away on its own. Only surgery can repair it.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kenneth Bark, MD - Surgery,

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document some Information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

Last Revised: November 15, 2012

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