Belly button discharge: Causes and treatment

Belly button can be susceptible to various issues, including discharge. We tell you the causes of belly button discharge.

Belly button is the prominent abdominal mark. Your umbilical cord was once attached to it, but after birth, it does not really have a purpose. That does not mean you should ignore it and not take care of it. If you don’t clean your navel, it can attract bacteria and dirt. Add sweat to it, and you may have to deal with belly button problems. One of them is belly button discharge, which can be wet and smelly. Poor hygiene is one of the reasons why fluid comes out from the belly button. But there are more causes of belly button discharge.

What is a belly button?

The belly button or navel is a remnant of the umbilical cord that connected a fetus to its mother’s placenta during pregnancy. After birth, the umbilical cord is typically cut, leaving behind the belly button as a scar. Though pregnancy changes belly button, the navel itself serves no physiological purpose after birth. Still, it can be susceptible to various issues, including belly button discharge, says gastrointestinal oncology and liver transplant expert Dr Neeraj Goel.

A woman experiencing belly button discharge
Belly button discharge is often benign. Image courtesy: Freepik

What is belly button discharge?

Belly button discharge refers to any fluid or material emitted from the belly button. It can vary in appearance, ranging from pus, blood, or a clear fluid, and may be accompanied by a foul odour. Belly button discharge, though often benign, can sometimes be indicative of underlying issues that require medical attention.

What are the causes of belly button discharge?

Several factors can contribute to smelly belly button discharge:

1. Infection

Infection is one of the most common causes, says the expert. According to a 2012 study published in Plos One, the belly button mostly has 67 types of bacteria. So, bacterial infections can occur due to poor hygiene or moisture accumulation in the belly button. Symptoms of an infection may include redness, swelling, pain, and warmth around the belly button, along with the discharge.

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2. Umbilical hernia

Umbilical hernia, characterised by abdominal tissue protruding through the abdominal wall near the belly button, can also cause discharge if the hernia becomes infected or irritated.

3. Allergic reactions

Some people may be allergic to the chemicals in soaps, lotions, or metals in jewellery worn around the belly button. Allergic reactions may lead to irritation and discharge in some people.

4. Cysts

Cysts can get formed in or around the belly button due to blocked sweat glands or hair follicles, says the expert. They may produce discharge if they become infected or inflamed.

5. Fistula

Fistula, an abnormal connection between organs or tissues, can occur between the vagina and the rectum. It can lead to the passage of stool or other bodily fluids through the navel, resulting in discharge.

6. Umbilical granuloma

It is a small benign growth that can form in the belly button after the umbilical cord falls off. It may produce clear or yellowish belly button discharge. While granuloma is generally harmless, it can cause discomfort and require medical attention if it becomes infected.

7. Umbilical metastasis

It is a very rare manifestation of intra-abdominal cancer, and can be the cause of belly button discharge. You may also have mild pain in the lower abdomen if you have umbilical metastasis.

If you experience symptoms such as fever, severe pain, swelling, redness or foul odour along with belly button discharge, you should consult a doctor promptly, says Dr Goel.

A woman experiencing belly button discharge
Belly button infection can lead to complications. Image courtesy: Freepik

Belly button infections are generally not fatal, but severe ones can lead to complications such as sepsis, which happens when chemicals released in the bloodstream to fight an infection cause inflammation in the body. It can happen particularly in people who have a weak immune system.

How to treat belly button discharge?

Treatment options for belly button discharge depend on the underlying cause.

  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications may be prescribed for belly button infections.
  • Surgical repair may be necessary for umbilical hernia or fistula.
  • Cysts may require drainage or removal.
  • Umbilical granulomas may be treated with topical or oral medications.
  • Surgery along with chemotherapy or palliative treatment may be suggested for umbilical metastasis.

To prevent belly button discharge, make sure to maintain good hygiene practices, including regular cleaning with mild soap and water and keeping the area dry. Avoid wearing tight clothing or jewellery that can cause irritation.