Belly Button Pain: 10 Main Causes & What to Do

Medical review: Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
June 2022

There are many diverse causes for pain around the belly button area. It is usually caused by intestinal changes, like bloating from gas, worm infestations and other intestinal infections or inflammation (like gastroenteritis, appendicitis, irritable bowel and obstructed bowel). 

Belly button pain can be a result of pain radiating from other areas of the abdomen, which can happen with pancreatitis or cholecystitis, or even pregnancy changes. Pain can vary and can be cramping, sharp, persistent or accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, sweats or pallor. 

To be able to identify the cause of belly button pain, it is important to seek a medical consult with your family doctor or gastroenterologist.  These are the most common causes of belly button pain: 

1. Umbilical hernia

An umbilical hernia can cause pain located directly on the belly button. These hernias happen when a part of the intestine or another abdominal organ bulges through the abdominal lining and accumulates between the abdominal muscles and skin. 

Generally, the pain emerges or worsens with physical activity, but it can be persistent and become intense if circulation to tissue around the hernia becomes cut off from increase local swelling. Learn more about different types of hernias.

What to do: Treatment for a hernia should be guided by a general surgeon. Treatment can vary from watchful waiting, to see if the hernia resolves on its own, with with surgery to repair it. 

2. Constipation 

Constipation is a very important cause of abdominal pain around the belly button. It is often a result of intestinal distension from gas or from accumulated feces that stimulate nerves that pass through this region. Many women may also experience constipation during pregnancy

What to do: To prevent constipation, you should maintain a diet that is rich in fiber, which can be found in vegetables and seeds. See which naturally laxative foods you should include in your diet. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, at least 2 L per day, to maintain food intestinal flow and and to reduce abdominal blowing. Laxatives, like lactulose, can be prescribed by the doctor if constipation does not improve on its own. 

3. Pregnancy

Pregnant women can present with pain or discomfort around the belly button at any time during pregnancy. This pain is normal and expected, and is associated with belly growth and round ligament stretching. The stretching belly can weaken the abdominal wall around the belly button and cause an umbilical hernia. 

In addition, compression and distension of the uterus and other organs can stimulate pain nerves in the area and cause the sensation of pain in the belly button. This is usually more intense at the end of pregnancy. 

What to do: If the pain you feel is mild and tolerable, you should just monitor it, as it will likely disappear on its own. The doctor may prescribe analgesics, like acetaminophen. You should look out for signs of redness, swelling, belly button discharge, and intense pain as these are signs of infection. Read more about the causes of belly button pain during pregnancy

4. Gastroenteritis

Diarrhea that occurs due to gastroenteritis or food poisoning can cause pain around the belly button. However, this type of pain can be felt anywhere in the abdomen due to inflammation associated with these conditions. 

Pain can also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and fever, and an last, on average, for 3 to 7 days. 

What to do: You should opt for light meals with easy-to-digest foods that are low in fat. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, like water, tea and fresh juices. Analgesics and antispasmodic medication can help to relieve pain, but if symptoms become intense, last for over one week or are accompanied by bleeding or fever over 39ºC (or 102.2ºF), you should proceed to the emergency room. 

Be sure to read up on home remedies for food poisoning you can use to complement your medical treatment. 

5. Appendicitis

Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, which is a small organ connected to the large intestine. It starts off as pain around the belly button that spreads to the lower right abdomen and becomes more intense as time goes on. This inflammation is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and fever. Appendicitis is characterized by rebound pain, which means that pain is felt not with palpation of the abdomen, but when releasing it. 

Complete our online symptom checker to assess your risk for appendicitis

What to do: If you notice symptoms of appendicitis, you should proceed to the emergency room for assessment and a diagnosis. if confirmed, the treatment involves surgical removal of the appendix and antibiotics.  Read more about how appendicitis is treated and possible complications that can occur.

6. Cholecystitis

Cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder that usually happens due to accumulated gall stones that obstruct bile flow. It can cause abdominal pain and vomiting that worsen after eating. In most cases, the pain is felt in the upper right abdomen, but it can also be felt around the belly button and radiate to the back. Read more about what can cause gall stones and what symptoms they can cause. 

What to do: If you suspect your symptoms are related to gallbladder inflammation, you should proceed to the emergency room for assessment and testing. Treating is prescribed by the doctor, and may involve the use of antibiotics, diet changes, IV hydration and gallbladder removal surgery. See the home remedies for gallstones you can use to complement your medical treatment. 

7. Irritable bowel syndrome

This illness is characterized by abdominal pain that improves following bowel movements. Pain is often felt in the lower abdomen, but it can vary and be felt in any area of the abdomen. This condition is usually associated with bloating, intestinal gas, and alternating diarrhea with constipation.

What to do: This condition is diagnosed by a gastroenterologist. Treatment can involve analgesics and antispasmodic to relieve pain, simethicone to decrease gas, laxatives and fiber during periods of constipation, and anti-diarrhea meds during periods of diarrhea. It is common for this condition to be seen in anxious people, therefore psychological support and stress relief may also help with symptoms. 

8. Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a serious inflammation of the pancreas, which is the main organ responsible for the breakdown of nutrients in the intestines. It can often cause strong pain in the middle of the abdomen, which can radiate to the back. This condition can also cause nausea, vomiting and fever. 

Pancreatitis can be acute, which causes more obvious symptoms, or it can be chronic, which causes a more mild or persistent pain and is associated with absorption problems, Because pancreatitis can quickly become very serious, you should seek medical attention if you have symptoms. 

What to do: If you have symptoms of pancreatitis, you should seek a medical assessment to confirm the presence of this illness. Treatment should be initiated promptly, and it may involve diet restrictions, IV hydration, antibiotics and analgesics. Serious cases with complications, like a bowel perforation, may require surgical intervention. 

9. Inflammatory bowel disease 

Inflammatory bowel disease, more commonly known as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, is a chronic inflammation of the intestinal lining due to autoimmune dysfunction. Some common symptoms include abdominal pain which can emerge throughout the abdomen, but is commonly felt in the lower abdomen), diarrhea and intestinal bleeding. 

What to do: Treatment for this condition should be guided by a gastroenterologist with medication to relieve pain and soothe inflammation and diarrhea. In more serious cases, surgical intervention to remove damaged portions of the intestines may be necessary. Read more about Crohn’s disease and how it is treated. 

10. Intestinal ischemia

Decreased blood flow to the intestines, caused by inflammation or tissue death, can cause abdominal pain that is localized around the belly button. The pain can be subtle or persistent, depending on the cause of circulation issues. 

This situation can happen due to the narrowing of intestinal blood vessels, vessel spasms, sudden drops in blood pressure, heart failure, intestinal cancer or drug use. 

What to do: Treatment for intestinal ischemia depends on the underlying cause. The treatment plan is formulated by a gastroenterologist and can involve diet changes and analgesic medications. Medications or surgical interventions to dissolve clots and improve blood flow may also be considered.

Other possible causes of belly button pain 

In addition to the above-mentioned causes, belly button pain can also be caused by less common situations, like: 

  • Parasitic infestation: which can cause abdominal inflammation and distension, causing belly button pain or pain in other regions of the abdomen.
  • Abdominal tumors: which can displace or compress organs in the area 
  • Gastric ulcers: which can cause intense inflammation
  • Urinary tract infections: although they usually cause lower abdominal pain, UTIs can also irritate nerves near the belly button, especially during urination
  • Inflammation from direct trauma or infection in the abdominal muscles 
  • Bowel obstruction from impacted feces, neurological disease or a tumor 
  • Diverticulitis: this is an inflammation of the diverticuli, which are small sacs that form from weakening of the intestinal wall. They can cause belly button pain, although pain is more felt in the lower left abdomen. 
  • Spinal disease: like a hernia, which can cause pain that radiates to the abdomen and belly button 

Because there are so many possible causes for belly button pain, it is best to seek an assessment, as the doctor can identify the type of pain, evaluate associated symptoms and health history, and perform a physical exam to determine the cause. 

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Atualizado por Tua Saude editing team, em June de 2022. Medical review por Dr. Clarisse Bezerra - Family Doctor, em June de 2022.
Medical review:
Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
Dr. Bezerra possesses a medical degree and specializes in family medicine. She is licensed to practice under CRM-CE licence #16976.