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What Is Belly Button Surgery?

A woman showing her belly button.
A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2014
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Belly button surgery, also known as umbilical hernia repair, is a procedure used to correct an intestinal protrusion of the wall of the abdomen that may occur near the belly button. Generally conducted on an outpatient basis, umbilical hernia repair is most frequently performed on children. As with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with belly button surgery and these should be discussed with a qualified health care provider prior to pursuing this treatment option.

While in utero, the umbilical cord passes through muscles within the baby's abdominal wall. Generally, the opening through which the cord passes closes before the baby is born, but in some cases it may not close completely, creating a weakness within the abdominal muscles. An umbilical hernia occurs when an individual’s intestine protrudes through the weakened abdominal muscles located near the belly button. A condition frequently diagnosed in infants, an umbilical hernia is most evident when stress is placed on the abdominal area, as occurs during crying or coughing. Usually the hernia repairs itself within the first couple of years, but if the hernia remains beyond a child's fourth year, belly button surgery may be performed to prevent complications.

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There are several factors that may contribute to the development of an umbilical hernia later in life. Individuals who are obese or have a medical condition that causes a persistent cough are at an increased risk for developing a hernia. Women who have had multiple pregnancies are also at a higher risk for developing an umbilical hernia. The presence of an intestinal protrusion is usually detected during a physical examination and may be verified through the administration of imaging testing, such as an ultrasound.

Hernias that occur in children may bulge out and cause pain or progress and adversely affect blood supply. Umbilical hernias in adults may cause the intestinal tissue to become incarcerated, or stuck in the hernia, leading to the eventual strangulation of the protruding portion of the intestine. When tissue is strangulated its blood supply is disrupted, which can lead to tissue death, or necrosis. Whether the hernia is causing pain, increasing in size, or at risk for endangering intestinal tissue, surgery may be necessary to repair the protrusion and provide support to the weakened abdominal wall.

Belly button surgery is an invasive procedure conducted under general anesthesia. During the procedure, a cut is made under the belly button and the hernia is separated from the surrounding tissue. Depending on the size of the hernia, it may either be returned to its original position within the abdominal cavity or removed. In some cases, a synthetic mesh material may then be used to reinforce the weakened abdominal wall. Sutures close the hole created by the hernia and additional stitches are utilized to close the incision.

Prior to the procedure, parents may be instructed to provide a list of medications their child may be taking, including herbal supplements and vitamins. Individuals should not eat or drink anything at least six hours prior to surgery. Adults undergoing belly button surgery may be asked to discontinue their use of aspirin, or any other medications that may interfere with blood clotting, at least three days before the procedure.

While in recovery, the individual’s vital signs are monitored to ensure she or he is stable and pain medication may be administered to alleviate discomfort. Parents may be instructed on how to care for their child’s incision, which may take up to two weeks to heal completely. Normal activities may usually be resumed without restriction within one month of the procedure.

Individuals who undergo belly button surgery may be at risk for developing complications. As associated with the use of general anesthesia, risks may include breathing difficulty, allergic reaction, and heart arrhythmia. Complications associated with the repair may include infection, injury to the large intestine, and excessive bleeding.

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