What is a hernia?

When a child has a hernia, part of the intestine (bowel) bulges through a weak area or gap in the muscles in the wall of the belly.

Hernias are common in children.

What is the cause?

Most hernias in children occur before birth. In some babies, some of the muscles in the belly don’t completely come together before birth. This leaves a small opening below the skin.

A common area for hernias to develop in children is the belly button. This is called an umbilical hernia. A groin (inguinal) hernia occurs in the lower part of the belly, where your child’s legs join the lower part of the body.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the lower belly or groin, especially with physical activity
  • A lump or bulge in your child’s belly that may get bigger when your child cries, coughs, or strains

If your child has a groin hernia, part of the intestines may get trapped in the gap between the muscles. This can be a serious problem because blood may not be able to get to that part of the intestines and part of the intestines may die. This can make your child very sick. Your child will need medical care right away.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays
  • CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the organs inside the belly
  • An ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of the organs inside the lower belly

How is it treated?

Most umbilical hernias do not need special care or treatment unless they don’t go away on their own before a child is 4 to 6 years old. Large umbilical hernias or hernias where the bowel cannot be pushed back into the abdomen may need surgery.

Inguinal hernias are treated with surgery. Although the surgery to correct a hernia is relatively minor, there are some risks with using anesthesia on young babies. Ask your healthcare provider when it’s best to treat the problem with surgery.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take your child to recover
  • What activities your child should avoid
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when you should bring your child back for a checkup.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-04-21
Last reviewed: 2014-04-16
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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