Pain in or around the bellybutton can be an alarming sensation. It can be sharp and sudden, or it may come on slowly. It can also feel like it's coming directly from the bellybutton, or elsewhere. What gives? Here's a look at the possible causes of pain in or near the bellybutton.
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Though bellybutton pain when stretching certainly seems mysterious, there are a number of potential causes.
Bellybutton pain is a potential sign of a hernia, according to the Mayo Clinic. While usually painless in children, umbilical hernias can cause abdominal pain and discomfort in adults. Other potential signs or symptoms are visible swelling or a bulge near the navel, vomiting or tenderness or discoloration in the area.
Pain that starts in or near the bellybutton could also be a symptom of appendicitis, according to Cedars Sinai. This is especially suspected if the bellybutton pain is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, pain when the abdomen is pressed or other unusual behavior that accompanies the abdominal pain. If any of these signs are detected along with bellybutton pain, seek emergency medical attention.
In other cases, the pain in the bellybutton can present with no visible abnormalities, and a medical cause for the pain is not found. According to Baylor College of Medicine, this is known as functional abdominal pain. This pain can be mild or severe, and it is usually recurring. While it typically occurs with other gastrointestinal symptoms — such as diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating — it can also occur with no other GI symptoms.
The causes of bellybutton pain can vary widely, so it can be difficult to give precise recommendations on how to relieve it. For example, umbilical hernias often don't require treatment unless they get larger, become painful or lead to complications such as blocking the flow of material through the intestines, per the Mayo Clinic. In those cases, surgery to repair the hernia is the typical treatment.
If you think you could have appendicitis, however, you should get medical attention right away. The pain typically begins near the bellybutton, but it is frequently followed by more widespread pain and other alarming symptoms within a few hours.
One potential treatment for functional abdominal pain is antidepressants, according to Baylor College of Medicine. The reason is that the same neurotransmitters that affect mood can also affect pain circuits in the body. For functional abdominal pain, antidepressants are typically used at lower doses. Behavioral treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy, may also help patients cope with functional abdominal pain.
Regardless of what might be leading to bellybutton pain, Seattle, Washington-based David Hanscom, MD, a former orthopedic spine surgeon and author of several books about pain, has some advice for approaching the pain. "If it is just an isolated, occasional pain, there is not a reason to see a doctor," he says. "However, any persistent symptom in any part of the body should be checked out."
Read more: Tummy Trouble? What's Behind the Pain
- Baylor College of Medicine: “Functional Abdominal Pain”
- William D. Spielfogel, DPM, chair of podiatry, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, New York
- Mayo Clinic: “Umbilical Hernia”
- Cedars Sinai: “Not Just a Stomach Ache: Symptoms of Appendicitis”
- David Hanscom, MD, former orthopedic spine surgeon, author, Seattle, Washington
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.