Umbilical hernia, protrusion of the intestine into a weakened opening in the abdominal muscle, occurs more often in infants than adults. Around 2 percent of adults develop an umbilical hernia, M. Velasco of Puerto Rico University Hospital Department of Surgery reported in 1999 in "Hernia." Unlike umbilical hernias in children, which often heal spontaneously, umbilical hernias in adults require surgery to avoid serious complications. Symptoms are few until the hernia strangulates.
Umbilical hernias occur in weakened abdominal areas, which can occur after abdominal surgery, in people who are overweight, people with ascites, pregnant women or in people undergoing peritoneal dialysis, the Merck Manuals report. The area around the navel bulges out up to two inches if an umbilical hernia is present, MayoClinic.com reports. The umbilicus itself becomes stretched and distorted. Bulging may be worse when the person strains or puts pressure on the abdominal muscles, such as during heavy lifting. Lying down often reduces the swelling. In the early stages, an umbilical hernia can be easily reduced, or pushed into the abdomen. If the intestines become incarcerated or stuck in the bulging area, the lump of intestine and tissue can no longer be pushed back in. Often placing the person in a head down, or Trendelenberg position makes it possible to reduce the hernia and push the tissue and intestine back inside the abdominal wall, the Merck Manuals state. If the hernia strangulates, or cuts off the blood supply to the intestine and tissue trapped inside, the skin around the umbilicus may redden or turn blue or gray from lack of circulation.
Umbilical hernia may cause mild pain or burning at the site which increases with activities that increase abdominal pressure such as having a bowel movement or cough. If the hernia incarcerates, pain increases. If the umbilical hernia strangulates, severe pain occurs. The entire abdomen may become rigid and tender to touch, the Merck Manuals warn. A strangulated hernia is a surgical emergency; without immediate surgery, part of the bowel will die. If the bowel ruptures, stool spills into the peritoneal cavity and can cause severe infection called peritonitis and, in some cases, death.
Nausea and vomiting commonly occur if an umbilical hernia strangulates. Gas and stool can't pass the obstructed area, so constipation and blood in the stool may occur, Drugs.com reports.