Hernia (Umbilical or Inguinal) in Children

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What is a hernia?

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.  A hernia that occurs in the groin area is called an inguinal 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.

What is an inguinal hernia?

As a male fetus grows and matures during pregnancy, the testicles develop in the abdomen and then move down into the scrotum through an area called the inguinal canal.

Shortly after the baby is born, the inguinal canal closes, preventing the testicles from moving back into the abdomen. If this area does not close off completely, a loop of intestine can move into the inguinal canal through the weakened area of the lower abdominal wall, causing a hernia.

Although girls do not have testicles, they do have an inguinal canal, so they can develop hernias in this area as well.

What is an umbilical hernia?

When the fetus is growing and developing during pregnancy, there is a small opening in the abdominal muscles so that the umbilical cord can pass through, connecting the mother to the baby.

After birth, the opening in the abdominal muscles closes as the baby matures. Sometimes, these muscles do not meet and grow together completely, and there is still a small opening present. A loop of intestine can move into the opening between abdominal muscles and cause a hernia.

Who is at risk for developing a hernia?

Hernias occur more often in children who have one or more of the following risk factors:

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.

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.

Why is a hernia a concern?

Occasionally, the loop of intestine that protrudes through a hernia may become stuck, and can not return to the abdominal cavity. If the intestinal loop cannot be gently pushed back into the abdominal cavity, 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 is the long-term outlook for this disorder?

Once the hernia is closed, either spontaneously or by surgery, it is unlikely that it will reoccur. The chance for reoccurrence of the hernia may be increased if the intestine was damaged.

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