Belly Button Pain: Causes, Seriousness, Relief

Belly Button Pain: Causes, Seriousness, Relief


Belly button pain, or periumbilical pain, occurs in or around the navel, the small indented area in the center of your abdomen. Depending on the underlying cause, belly button pain may feel sharp or dull, come and go, or be a constant presence.

While some causes of belly button pain are minor, like indigestion or muscle strain, more intense or persistent pain may be a sign of a more severe condition that requires prompt medical attention.

See a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment if you have ongoing or severe belly button pain. Ignoring it increases the risk of worsening pain and complications that can affect your overall health and quality of life. 

Your belly button, or navel, sits in the center of your abdomen (belly). It is a scar that marks the point where your umbilical cord was connected to your body before birth. Your abdominal cavity—the space between the chest and pelvis—houses many organs, muscles, protective tissues, blood vessels, and nerves.

Knowing which organs are near your belly button can help pinpoint the potential source of your pain. Problems with organs in and close to the part of your abdomen surrounding your navel—called the periumbilical region—can cause belly button pain. These organs include:

Belly button pain is common and can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. You may feel aching, cramping, or stabbing sensations. Different conditions can cause various types of belly button pain, including:

  • Visceral pain: This pain originates from a problem with an organ in the periumbilical region of your abdomen (around your belly button) and may feel dull, achy, or nauseating. Problems with the small intestine, large intestine, or appendix are common causes of visceral pain.
  • Somatic pain: This pain usually comes from irritation of the peritoneum, the protective lining of the abdominal cavity. It typically feels sharp and develops in response to infections or inflammation in the abdominal area behind the belly button. 
  • Referred pain: This is pain in an organ or tissues outside the periumbilical region that radiates to the belly button area. It may be dull, aching, gnawing, or pressing.

Belly button pain has many possible causes. While it is not always a sign of something serious, sometimes belly button pain is a symptom of an underlying condition that requires medical attention and treatment. 

Indigestion

Dyspepsia (indigestion) causes abdominal pain that develops from eating too much or too quickly. Eating spicy or greasy foods and drinking too much alcohol or caffeinated beverages, including coffee, can also trigger indigestion.

The most common symptom of indigestion is a burning pain or a sensation of uncomfortable fullness in the upper abdomen. Sometimes, the pain radiates toward the belly button. Bloating, gas, burping, and nausea are also common.

Indigestion is usually not a cause for concern unless it occurs with symptoms like trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, sweating, or unintended weight loss.

Umbilical Hernia 

An umbilical hernia occurs when a portion of the intestines or abdominal tissue pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles near the belly button. It doesn’t always cause symptoms, but you may notice a small bump under the skin near your belly button or experience pain and discomfort during physical activity.

While umbilical hernias are most common in infants, they can also occur in adults, especially those with obesity or previous pregnancies, which can weaken the abdominal wall.

Small umbilical hernias may not need treatment, but it’s important to see a healthcare provider if you suspect you have one. There is a risk that an umbilical hernia can cut off the blood supply to the area, which occurs when the herniated tissue gets stuck (cannot be pushed back in), causing the tissue around the belly button to lose its blood supply. If this happens, you can experience symptoms like skin color changes around the belly button, nausea, and vomiting.

Appendicitis 

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, a small pouch attached to the large intestine. Minor belly button pain is often the first symptom of appendicitis. The pain may worsen when coughing, walking, or making sudden movements. You might also have nausea, a low-grade fever, and experience a loss of appetite.

Over time, the pain becomes sharper and more severe and moves to the lower right part of your abdomen. 

Appendicitis requires prompt medical attention and surgical removal of the appendix before the organ ruptures and leads to complications, such as an intestinal blockage or abdominal infection.

Gastroenteritis 

Gastroenteritis, more commonly known as the stomach flu, is inflammation of the intestines. Common symptoms include abdominal cramping and pain that comes in waves around the belly button and lower belly. You may also experience diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

Gastroenteritis usually goes away within a few days without treatment. The most common complication is dehydration, when your body loses fluids and electrolytes more quickly than you replace them.

See a healthcare provider if you:

  • Develop severe abdominal pain and cramping
  • Have six or more diarrhea episodes in a day
  • Develop symptoms of dehydration such as extreme thirst, dry mouth, dark-colored urine, less frequent urination, or lightheadedness

Urinary Tract Infection

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection that can affect any part of the urinary system, including the bladder, kidneys, ureters, or urethra. The infection can cause aching pain or pressure in the lower abdomen or belly button area. You may also experience painful and frequent urination as well as cloudy, smelly, or blood-tinged urine.

Anyone can develop a UTI, but women are 30 times more likely to develop UTIs than men.

Peptic Ulcer 

A peptic ulcer is a sore on the lining of your stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The sore develops when gastric acids that help your body digest food damage the walls of your stomach or duodenum. Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterial infections are the most common causes of peptic ulcers. 

Burning stomach pain, which can occur anywhere from your belly button to your breastbone, is the most common symptom. For many people with peptic ulcers, the pain often starts between meals or at night and lasts for minutes to hours. Bloating, belching, nausea, vomiting, feeling full too soon when you eat, or feeling uncomfortably full after a meal are also common.

Other Causes

Although less common, other conditions that can cause belly button pain include: 

  • Bowel obstructionAbdominal cramping and sharp, stabbing pains around the belly button area can occur when a blockage in the intestines prevents the normal passage of food, liquid, digestive fluids, and stool through the digestive tract.
  • PancreatitisInflammation of the pancreas can cause severe upper- to mid-abdominal pain that often radiates to the back. Other symptoms include abdominal swelling and tenderness, nausea, and vomiting. 
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm: When the aorta—a large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs—bulges or enlarges, it can rupture and cause sudden, severe, and persistent abdominal or back pain that radiates to the buttocks, groin, and legs.
  • Mesenteric ischemia: Poor circulation in the vessels supplying blood to the stomach, intestines, and liver can cause severe abdominal pain within an hour of eating, along with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and gas.
  • Abdominal muscle strain: A tear or damage to an abdominal muscle can cause sharp and aching pains around the belly button, swelling, and muscle spasms while coughing or performing other movements that involve the affected muscle.

Belly button pain is not always a cause for concern and often resolves on its own. However, it’s important to see a healthcare provider when belly button pain:

  • Lasts a week or longer
  • Does not improve within 24-48 hours or worsens 
  • Occurs with nausea and vomiting
  • Occurs with diarrhea for more than five days
  • Occurs with a fever over 100°F (37.78°C)
  • Causes a loss of appetite

Seek emergency medical care for any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe, sharp, unrelenting pain
  • Belly tenderness or a belly that is rigid (stiff) to the touch 
  • Pain in or between your shoulders
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting blood 
  • Bloody stools
  • Difficulty passing gas or having a bowel movement 
  • Belly button pain that develops after an accident or traumatic blow to your abdomen 

Diagnosing the cause of belly button pain involves a medical history review, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. The diagnostic process might include the following:

  • Medical history review: Your healthcare provider will likely ask you to describe how your belly button pain feels, whether it radiates to other areas of your belly, how often it occurs, and what activities worsen or relieve the pain. They will also probably ask whether you’ve experienced a recent injury to your abdomen or have other symptoms.
  • Physical examination: Your provider will probably examine your abdomen for signs of swelling or bloating and may feel your belly for tenderness or abnormalities, such as a hernia.
  • Lab tests: Blood tests can help check for markers of infection or inflammation and provide insights into how your internal organs are functioning. A urinalysis (urine test) can help identify whether you have a UTI, and stool testing can check for inflammation or infection in your intestines.
  • Imaging scans: Abdominal X-rays, ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans help visualize the internal structures in your abdomen to identify abnormalities, such as a hernia or appendicitis.

Treatment for belly button pain depends on the underlying cause. It may include at-home and medical treatments.

At-Home Treatments

Self-care measures may be enough to treat some causes of mild belly button pain. These treatments may include: 

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications: Antacid medications, such as Zantac (ranitidine) or Prilosec (omeprazole), may help relieve mild pain from indigestion.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and support healthy digestion.
  • Dietary changes: Eating smaller meals throughout the day, eating bland foods like bananas or crackers, and avoiding certain foods and beverages, such as spicy or greasy foods, dairy products, caffeine, and alcohol, may relieve some causes of mild belly button pain, like indigestion and gastroenteritis.
  • Heat therapy: Applying a heating pad to your abdomen may temporarily relieve belly button pain.

Medical Treatments 

Some causes of belly button pain require medical treatments, like prescription medications or surgery. What your healthcare provider recommends will depend on the cause of the pain.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to treat the underlying cause of belly button pain. For example, antibiotics treat UTIs, prescription-strength antacids can help relieve belly button pain related to indigestion, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can treat a peptic ulcer.

Surgery is necessary for some causes of belly button pain. For example, most cases of appendicitis require removal of the appendix (appendectomy), and umbilical hernias sometimes require hernia repair surgery to put the herniated tissue back in place.

Belly button pain has many possible causes, from minor, easily treated issues like indigestion and gastroenteritis (stomach flu) to more severe conditions like appendicitis, peptic ulcers, and bowel obstructions.

Home remedies like hydration, rest, and heat therapy may help if your pain is mild. If you have severe or persistent belly button pain, see a healthcare provider. Early diagnosis and treatment can help relieve your pain and prevent complications. 

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