A hernia occurs when a section of intestine protrudes through a weakness in the abdominal muscles. A soft bulge is seen underneath the skin where the hernia has occurred.
In children, a hernia usually occurs in one of two places:
- Around the belly button
- In the groin area
A hernia that occurs in the belly button area is called an umbilical hernia.
A hernia that occurs between the belly button and the breast bone is called an epigastric hernia.
A hernia that occurs in the groin area is called an inguinal hernia.
A hernia that occurs in the diaphragm area is called a diaphragmatic hernia.
What causes a hernia?
A hernia can develop in the first few months after the baby is born because of a weakness in the muscles of the abdomen. Inguinal and umbilical hernias happen for slightly different reasons.
Who is at risk for developing a hernia?
Hernias occur more often in children who have one or more of the following risk factors:
- A parent or sibling who had a hernia as an infant
- Cystic fibrosis
- Developmental dysplasia of the hip
- Undescended testes
- Abnormalities of the genitourinary system
Why is a hernia a concern?
Occasionally, the loop of intestine that protrudes through a hernia may become stuck, and is no longer reducible. This means that the intestinal loop cannot be gently pushed back into the abdominal cavity. When this happens, that section of intestine may lose its blood supply. A good blood supply is necessary for the intestine to be healthy and function properly.
What are the symptoms of a hernia?
Hernias usually occur in newborns, but may not be noticeable for several weeks or months after birth.
Straining and crying do not cause hernias; however, the increased pressure in the abdomen can make a hernia more noticeable.
If the hernia is not reducible, then the loop of intestine may be caught in the weakened area of abdominal muscle. Symptoms that may be seen when this happens include the following:
- A full, round abdomen
- Abdominal pain and tenderness
- Redness or discoloration adjacent to the hernia
The symptoms of a hernia may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.
How are hernias diagnosed?
Hernias can be diagnosed by a physical examination by your child's doctor. Your child will be examined to determine if the hernia is reducible (can be pushed back into the abdominal cavity) or not. Your child's doctor may order abdominal X-rays or ultrasound to examine the intestine more closely, especially if the hernia is no longer reducible.
What is the treatment for hernias?
Specific treatment will be determined by your child's doctor based on the following:
- Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
- Type of hernia
- Whether the hernia is reducible (can be pushed back into the abdominal cavity) or not
- Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Your opinion or preference