What is a Hernia?

Hernias are fairly common in kids. Babies, especially premature babies, can be born with them. Hernias are often associated with boys, but both boys and girls can get hernias.

sick, belly button
Image via Flickr/ Scott Sherrill-Mix

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a bulge created by an organ or tissue where the bulge pushes through a weakness in the area of the body that normally contains it. Usually, a hernia happens in the belly area. The two types of hernias that occur in most babies and children are umbilical and inguinal.

Umbilical Hernias

An umbilical hernia happens when part of the intestine sticks through a weakness in the abdominal wall through the navel. During pregnancy, when the fetus is growing and developing, there is a small opening in the abdominal muscles so that the umbilical cord can pass through, connecting the mother to the baby. After the baby is born, the opening in the abdominal muscles closes as the baby grows. However, every now and then these muscles do not grow together completely and there is still a small opening. Part of the intestine can move into that opening between abdominal muscles and cause an umbilical hernia.

Children’s Hospital states that umbilical hernias occur:

  • in about 10 percent of all children.
  • more often in African-American children.
  • more often in girls than in boys.
  • more often in premature infants.

Inguinal Hernias

An inguinal hernia happens when part of the intestine pushes through the abdominal wall in or near the groin. About 5 out of 100 babies will get an inguinal hernia.

During pregnancy as a male fetus grows and matures, the testicles develop in the abdomen and then move down into the scrotum through an area called the inguinal canal. After birth, the inguinal canal closes, preventing the testicles from moving back up into the abdomen. If this area does not close off completely, a part of the intestine can move into the inguinal canal through the weakened area of the abdomen, causing a hernia.

Important note: Even though girls do not have testicles, they do have an inguinal canal, so girls can get an inguinal hernia as well.

Children's Hospital notes that inguinal hernias occur:

  • in about one to three percent of all children.
  • more often in premature infants.
  • in boys much more frequently than in girls.
  • more often in the right groin area than the left, but can also occur on both sides.

What to do About Hernias

If you notice a bulge in or near your child’s abdomen, contact your pediatrician right away. However, About Kids Health says you should get immediate assistance or go to the emergency room if:

  • the swelling is painful
  • the hernia is large and hard
  • your child is vomiting
  • the hernia appears red or discolored

These are usually signs of a strangulated hernia, which happens when the blood supply is blocked. Umbilical hernias do not usually become strangulated.

If your child does not need emergency medical attention, treatment for a hernia is often minor. Umbilical hernias do not usually require surgery, but if they do it is a minor operation. All inguinal hernias are treated with surgery because it is more likely the hernia could become strangulated. Most of the time your child can go home the day of the surgery and there is usually a small recovery period (usually just a few days). Once a hernia is closed it is unlikely that it will reoccur.

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What is a Hernia?

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