What Is a Hernia?
A hernia occurs when an organ inside the body protrudes through an incomplete closure or weakness in another part of the body. There are many types of hernias, but the two most common ones in children involve the abdomen: the umbilical hernia (in the navel or belly button area) and the inguinal hernia (in the groin area). An abdominal organ, usually the intestine, presses against an opening in the abdominal muscle wall, tissue, or membrane that normally holds the organ in place, and a pouch (containing intestines or fatty tissue) develops. Hernias can be present at birth or appear later in childhood, usually appearing as soft lumps under the skin. They may develop as a result of obesity, chronic constipation, or too much coughing or screaming—anything that increases pressure inside the abdomen. They often change size, depending on the body’s movement or activity.
Symptoms and Signs of Hernias
An umbilical hernia usually appears in the belly button area during the first few weeks or months of a baby’s life. It can become more visible and increase in size when the baby cries or has a bowel movement, which increases the pressure in the abdomen. The hernia itself is usually not painful or sensitive to touch.
An inguinal hernia usually involves the intestine or bladder pushing through an opening or weakness in the groin area, creating a visible bulge or lump, and it usually appears during infancy. Inguinal hernias can be big or small and may occur on one or both sides of the groin. Premature baby boys are more likely to have an inguinal hernia, which appears as a swollen scrotum. In girls, the hernia appears in the large fold of skin around the vagina. Usually the hernia does not bother the child and the contents of the hernia pouch slide back into place easily.
Incarcerated and Strangulated Hernias
In rare cases, the abdominal contents or intestine can become trapped, or incarcerated, and can’t be pushed back into place. Incarcerated hernias are potentially life-threatening. They are extremely painful, hard, swollen, and red or blue in color. They can cut off the blood flow and blood supply, which leads to a strangulated hernia. A strangulated hernia is an emergency; immediate surgery is required to prevent permanent injury to the intestines.
Treatment for Hernias
There is no way to prevent hernias in children. Your doctor will check for hernias at well-child appointments, but always consult the doctor if you discover a lump in the baby’s navel or groin areas. You can also decrease any risk of hernias developing by treating your child’s medical problems, preventing excessive weight gain, reducing constipation, and watching out for chronic coughs.
All hernias must be evaluated by a doctor. The doctor might be able to push the intestine or bladder back into its place, but the weakness may not always repair itself. Over time, umbilical hernias can disappear on their own without special treatment, but inguinal hernias usually need surgery because they can become incarcerated or strangulated. In most cases, the doctor will recommend immediate surgery to repair the abdominal weakness and prevent the hernia from recurring. The surgery is a safe, outpatient procedure and recovery time is minimal. If your child has another health problem, such as a heart conditions or blood disorders, your doctor will recommend hospitalization.
Copyright ? 2012 Meredith Corporation.
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