A hernia is essentially an internal organ that pushes through the tissues or muscles holding it in place. Of the midline—or the line down the center of the abdomen from the breast bone to the belly button—the umbilical hernia is most common. Umbilical hernias occur mostly in infants and are evidenced by a bulge in or near the belly button. The organs effectively push through the abdominal wall when this occurs.
Umbilical hernias often it correct themselves, but occasionally surgery will be needed as the child gets older. There are generally no symptoms, beyond the bulge that may be visible—it's especially noticeable when the infant cries.
Occasionally an umbilical hernia will appear in an adult, more often in women, and may cause abdominal discomfort. Any other symptoms that might occur in tandem with an umbilical hernia, such as pain, swelling, or discoloration, should be treated as an emergency.
Other midline hernias may appear, by themselves or in tandem with one another. For example, an epigastric hernia resembles a small bump in the center of the belly above the navel. The abdominal wall may have a spot of weakness or a bit of a gap in it, and this occurs more often in males. Abdominal fat can then actually push through the muscles or tendons intended to hold it in place, creating the bulge or bulges along the midline.
An epigastric hernia is generally small and displays no signs, beyond its visibility. It may, however, cause some discomfort or pain in the abdomen. Despite the lack of problems, it's generally best to have them repaired by a doctor, so that they don't continue to grow larger. Additionally, if it isn’t fat that sneaks through the muscles and tendons, it may be an internal organ which can be problematic. If the bowel pushes through the abdominal wall, it can become “strangled,” which cuts off blood flow, kills the tissue, and turns into blood poisoning quickly. Strangulated hernias are nearly always an emergency situation.
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