Bacteria can feel at home inside belly buttons. Mostly, the bacteria are harmless, but they can multiply and cause an infection. They come in all sizes, and can become infected or cause problems that may turn out to be serious. You’re scratching your head, thinking, really, belly buttons can cause problems? Yes, they can, let’s review some of the data.
Belly Buttons: Sister Mary Joseph Nodule
This lump of tissue (tumor) bulges into your navel because of cancer that’s spreading in your gut. The color can range from white to brownish red. It may be firm or leak fluid. Other signs of cancer might be a bloated belly, nausea, weight loss, and bleeding when you go to the bathroom. Surgery can remove the nodule if it hurts, but this doesn’t slow the disease. It’s named for the nurse who noticed the link to cancer.
Belly Buttons: Sebaceous Cyst
It’s a lump under the skin that grows slowly and moves when you touch it. You might get one if something blocks a gland or irritates the area around a hair (follicle). A cut or scrape could also cause it. They usually don’t hurt, but you might notice a bad smell if the cyst drains. You can often ignore a smaller cyst. But if it’s large, swollen, or painful, your doctor may drain it, remove it, or inject drugs to curb the swelling.
Belly Buttons: Umbilical Hernia
Newborns have a small opening in their abdominal muscles where the umbilical cord connects. Digestive tubing (intestine) can poke through to the bellybutton before the hole can close. Most cases get better by age 5. Anything that raises abdominal pressure, like weightlifting, heavy coughing, or childbirth, could cause it in adults. Your doctor might try to massage it back into place, but if it’s in too tight, you may need surgery.
Belly Buttons: Urachus
Before birth, your bladder connects to your belly button through this channel in your gut. Though it usually disappears by the time you’re born, sometimes it remains. You might not notice it, but if it’s completely open, your navel may be wet as urine flows up and even leaks out. Your doctor will do surgery to repair the problem.
Belly Buttons: Urachal Cyst
The urachus might close enough to block fluid but still leave space for a lump of tissue, or cyst, to grow. It may be so small that you don’t know it’s there. But if it gets infected, you could have belly button pain, fever, and bloody urine. Your doctor may give you antibiotics, drain or remove the cyst, and possibly repair the area with surgery.
Belly Buttons: Umbilical Granuloma
This moist, red mound of tissue forms on a baby’s navel after the umbilical cord dries and falls off. It’s not a serious problem and usually doesn’t hurt. But it may ooze fluid that irritates the skin. You treat it with an ointment of silver nitrate that shrinks it. In some cases, your doctor might tie the bottom of the lump with thread to cut blood supply, so it shrivels and drops off.
Belly Buttons: Bacterial Infection
Bacteria can infect a wound or a cyst on your belly button or behind it. You could have pain, swelling, and pus or liquid that leaks from your navel. Your doctor might give you antibiotics or drain any built-up fluid. If another health problem caused it, you may get surgery to stop it from happening again. Keep the area clean to help prevent infection, especially if you have a cut or scrape.
Belly Buttons: Candidiasis
The fungus candida thrives in dark, warm, moist places like your belly button. It causes a rash of dry, itchy, swollen skin. You’re more likely to get it if you’re pregnant, obese, or take antibiotics. You can help prevent it if you wear looser clothing and keep your navel clean, especially in hot, humid weather. You treat it with antifungal creams, powders, or lotions rubbed directly on the area.
Belly Buttons: Omphalocele
Kids who have this birth defect may end up with just a scar, or nothing at all, for a belly button. When they’re born, the belly wall isn’t finished, which lets some of the bowel, liver, and other organs get out into the base of the umbilical cord. It can take some time to get everything back inside, even after surgery, which is the usual treatment.
Belly Buttons: Pregnancy
If you’re expecting, your belly button will probably go from an “innie” to an “outie” as pressure builds in your belly. In some cases, it could stick out far enough to be considered an umbilical hernia. Your doctor should notice this on one of your regular pregnancy visits and might try to massage it back into place. In rare cases, you may need surgery.
Belly Buttons: Navel Piercing
You like the look but don’t want an infection or scars. So only go to a licensed pro and make sure they wash their hands, wear gloves, and use good, sterilized equipment. Choose jewelry made from metals less likely to cause an allergy: surgical steel, titanium, 14-karat gold. Leave it in place for 6 weeks or more. Clean with soap and water, and try not to touch it. Call your doctor if it’s still swollen, red, or painful after a few days.
Belly Buttons: Skin Problems
Harsh chemicals in some soaps can irritate the skin in and around your navel. Look for gentle cleansers that don’t have alcohol, which might leave your skin dry and itchy. And don’t wash too much, since that can bother your skin. If you also have pain or swelling, tell your doctor.