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Umbilical Hernia: Treatment & Recovery

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Umbilical hernias can happen anytime during an individual's life. Read this lesson to learn the risks of developing an umbilical hernia, what treatment options are available to repair it, and what to expect during recovery.

A Hardworking Mom

Janna is a stay-at-home mother of four boys ranging in age from two months to eight years old. With the birth of her youngest son, she was not able to naturally deliver, requiring her to undergo a cesarean section for the surgical delivery of her new baby boy.

The procedure was invasive and required the surgeon to cut through many layers of tissue and abdominal muscle to deliver her child. Due to the surgery, Janna was ordered to rest and limit her lifting while her incision healed.

Now that Janna is home, her incision is healing nicely, and she is getting back to her regular routine. While her boys are playing in the yard one day, she hears crying. Without thinking, she runs out to scoop her oldest son up off the ground to comfort him after his fall. As soon as she picked him up, she felt a sharp tearing pain in her abdomen, just behind her navel.

An Umbilical Hernia

After her son is consoled, she sets him down and checks her incision. She does not notice any discoloration, but sees a small bulge at her umbilicus, or navel.

An umbilical hernia protruding through the navel

She suspects that the strain of picking up her son may have caused a hernia, or the push of intestines through the muscular abdominal wall. She worries that she may have caused some internal damage and decides to make an appointment with her doctor.

Risk

Umbilical hernias occur most often in young children and babies. When the baby is developing in utero, within the womb, the umbilical cord passes through a hole in the abdominal wall. After the baby is born, this hole resolves over time.

Adults, on the other hand, normally do not develop umbilical hernias. These specific hernias are caused by:

  • Obesity
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Abdominal surgeries that weaken the abdominal muscles
  • Severe straining

Treatment Options

Janna meets with her doctor who confirms an umbilical hernia. The only way to fix the hernia is through surgery, and there are two options to consider.

Open Hernia Repair

An open hernia repair requires yet another surgical operation to close the weak spot in Janna's abdomen to keep her intestines in place. Mesh, or tissue and sutures, can be used to reinforce the muscle area, preventing any further hernias to this location. Janna is still recovering from her recent cesarean section procedure, and another open surgery may further weaken her abdominal muscles.

Laparoscopic Repair

Laparoscopic repair is still surgery, but is less invasive and does not require a large incision. Small, rod-like tools are inserted into slits in the abdomen and use the same mesh material and sutures to reinforce the weakened abdominal muscle.

Janna decides to move forward with the laparoscopic procedure, as ignoring the injury could result in serious medical consequences. If a hernia is not repaired, it can result in deadly conditions like an intestinal blockage otherwise known as bowel obstruction, or even lack of blood supply to the intestines.

Recovery

The procedure goes well, and Janna is expected to return home later that day. Before she is discharged, the nurse gives her a few instructions on the recovery process, which is applicable to both open and laparoscopic repair.

Pain Control

Pain is common after surgical procedures, and Janna learns that she can use medication to help control her pain. She also learns a technique called splinting, where she is taught to hold a small pillow firmly against her abdomen when doing activities that can cause strain and discomfort to her incision. Splinting is to be used during:

  • Coughing
  • Deep breathing
  • Uncomfortable movement

Activity

Activity after surgery is an important part of the healing process. It is recommended to get up and walk as often as possible, but to limit lifting to ten pounds and no strenuous exercising until her follow-up appointment in four to six weeks. Ambulation, or walking around, helps to decrease the risk of muscle stiffness and life-threatening blood clots after surgery.

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