Belly button pain, also known as navel pain, is a frequent reason for medical consultation. It’s usually the result of underlying intestinal disorders or processes that originate in other organs and radiate to the abdomen. We’ll tell you 11 possible causes of belly button pain and what to do about them.
Abdominal discomfort in the navel area may manifest as repetitive cramping or a persistent feeling of heaviness. In most cases, it’s accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. Similarly, sweating, pallor, and palpitations are common in cases of infectious processes.
In these cases, timely medical evaluation with different blood tests and imaging tests will allow doctors and specialists to make a diagnosis. The therapy depends on the underlying disorder.
Symptoms and Causes of Belly Button Pain
Belly button pain can either be acute or chronic. Studies affirm that acute discomfort is characterized by a period of evolution of less than 48 or 72 hours. Chronic pain is when it persists for more than 3 months.
Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the epithelium and internal mucosa of the gastrointestinal tract as a result of a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection. This condition is a common cause of hospitalization in children under 5 years of age. Research suggests that the main pathogens involved are rotavirus and Escherichia coli.
Gastroenteritis usually occurs with diffuse pain in the umbilicus, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and chills. Dehydration is usually the most common complication.
Viral infections subside after a couple of days and require symptomatic treatment. Bacterial conditions may require antibiotics.
2. Umbilical hernia
An umbilical hernia is a protrusion of the intestinal loops through a defect in the abdominal muscles bordering the umbilicus. These are common in young children and 80% of these cases disappear between 4 and 5 years of age, according to studies. In adults, 90% are acquired and occur predominantly in women.
The usual symptom is a lump near the navel. In newborns and infants, it may only be visible when coughing or crying. Umbilical hernias in adults cause pain in the umbilicus that worsens with exertion.
The main risk factors are pregnancy, obesity, abdominal tumors, ascites, and excessive physical exertion. Treatment ranges from observation awaiting spontaneous regression to repairing the defect with surgery in order to avoid complications.
3. Food poisoning
Food poisoning is a common cause of colicky pain around the umbilicus. It results from the consumption of food contaminated by toxins or harmful germs. In most cases, it’s due to improper food handling.
The most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal bloating. These can occur from hours after consumption of the food to after a couple of days.
Treatment is based on symptom relief and fluid replacement to avoid dehydration. The use of antidiarrheals and antibiotics should be under strict medical supervision and prescription.
Pregnant women often report cramping and discomfort in the abdomen during pregnancy. In most cases, this is due to the growth and movement of the baby inside the uterus, with the consequent distension of the muscle fibers.
Pregnancy can favor the development of umbilical hernias due to weakness of the wall of the umbilicus and distension of the fibrous ligament of the abdomen. Similarly, compression of the blood vessels and nerve pathways by the pregnant uterus can also cause the appearance of discomfort.
5. Irritable bowel syndrome
This is a disorder that affects the large intestine and is characterized by abdominal discomfort that improves after evacuation. The pain is most common below the navel area, but can sometimes be diffuse.
Other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include the following:
- Abdominal bloating.
- Increased intestinal gas.
- Changes in the shape and consistency of the stools.
This condition should be treated by a physician specializing in gastroenterology. Changes in diet, lifestyle, and stress management are recommended. The practitioner may include the use of antispasmodic medications, laxatives, probiotics, antidiarrheals, and fiber supplementation.
Diverticulitis is the inflammation of the diverticula of the colon, small dilatations that form in the intestinal lining. Research suggests that 95% of these alterations are located at the level of the sigmoid colon.
It appears with pain around the navel or in the lower abdomen that’s exacerbated when eating and relieved with defecation. Abdominal distention, constipation, diarrhea, and rectal tenesmus are also common.
The diagnosis of diverticulitis is based on symptomatology and confirmation by endoscopic imaging or contrasted radiography. Physicians usually recommend a diet rich in fiber, spasmolytics and analgesics for pain.
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the cecal appendix, a small pouch extending from the first portion of the colon in the lower right side of the abdomen. The pain starts around the navel and after several hours migrates to the lower right quadrant of the belly. In addition, the discomfort is usually more intense when walking or coughing.
Other common symptoms include the following:
- Nausea and Vomiting.
- A loss of appetite.
- Increased abdominal tenderness.
In this regard, the patient usually feels intense pain when pressing and releasing the abdomen with the fingertips. Similarly, abdominal rigidity due to intestinal irritation is common.
The diagnosis of appendicitis is based on clinical findings, blood tests with elevated white blood cells and abdominal ultrasound. Fortunately, this disease can be resolved by surgical approach and removal of the inflamed appendix.
Pancreatitis is the sudden or chronic inflammation of the pancreas. Studies confirm that 80% of the cases of acute pancreatitis are produced by gallstones in the gallbladder and by the excessive consumption of alcohol.
The characteristic symptom of this condition is pain in the upper part of the navel that radiates towards the back. This discomfort is usually continuous and intense and is accompanied by fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal tenderness.
Pancreatic enzyme and renal function tests are helpful in the diagnosis of this condition. In most cases, pancreatitis is confirmed by ultrasound or computed tomography. Acute forms are treated with early hydration and analgesics.
Cholecystitis is the inflammation of the gallbladder, which is usually the result of stones obstructing the outflow of bile. It usually occurs with pain in the upper right region of the abdomen or above the navel. The pain is usually crampy and may extend to the right shoulder and back.
Similarly, cholecystitis may occur with nausea, vomiting and fever. This is a common cause of hospital emergency, so it should be consulted as soon as possible when suspected. Treatment is based on antibiotics, dietary changes, parenteral hydration, and, in the worst cases, surgical removal of the gallbladder.
10. Inflammatory bowel disease
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are common causes of ongoing pain in the navel due to chronic inflammation of the intestinal mucosa. Symptoms can be moderate to severe and experience periods of remission.
Some of the most common manifestations are as follows:
- Weight loss.
- Persistent diarrhea.
- Abdominal cramping.
- Blood in the stools.
- A loss of appetite.
This disease should be treated by a gastroenterology specialist. The therapeutic plan includes changes in the diet, as well as the use of analgesic and antispasmodic medications to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.
11. Intestinal obstruction
Intestinal obstruction is said to exist when there’s a stoppage of the normal transit that prevents the exit of stools. The most common causes include intestinal adhesions, hernias, and tumors.
Vomiting, nausea, and increased intestinal gas are common. In cases of complete obstruction, the person may report inability to evacuate. Diagnosis is made by clinical examination and imaging studies.
In most cases, intestinal obstruction is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization. Treatment includes administration of intravenous fluids and suction of fecal material by tube and surgery.
A symptom that shouldn’t be underestimated
Pain in the belly button area is usually a clear manifestation that something is wrong with the body. It’s usually the result of mild conditions and resolves spontaneously. However, it can also warn us of the presence of appendicitis, pancreatitis, cholecystitis, and intestinal obstruction.
It’s advisable to be attentive to the evolution of the discomfort and seek medical help if the pain is persistent and worsens over time. Similarly, high fever, blood in the stools, and loss of consciousness will require professional attention.