Sharp (Stabbing) Belly Button Pain: Common & Uncommon Causes.

Our content is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice by your doctor. Use for informational purposes only.

The two most common causes of sharp (stabbing) pain in the belly button are early acute umbilicus and umbilical hernias. Other causes are often less likely to cause sharp or isolated umbilical pain.

Although written by a gastroenterologist, this article is not a replacement for medical evaluation and advice by your doctor. Some causes of sharp belly button pain may require emergency medical attention.

1 . Early acute appendicitis.

The appendix is a worm-like structure attached to the first part of your colon (the caecum). The caecum and the attached appendix lie in the lower right quadrant of your abdomen.

We don’t know the exact cause or trigger of acute appendicitis. However, we know that it results from combined obstruction and infections of the appendix (reference).

The appendix is famous for causing right lower abdominal pain. However, in 50 to 60% of patients, The pain starts like a sharp pain at the belly button (umbilicus) (reference).

Consider appendicitis if you suddenly start to experience a sharp or stabbing pain in the belly button or around it.

Symptoms of acute appendicitis:

  • Pain initially starts as sharp, stabbing, or pulling pain in the belly button (or around it).
  • Hours later, The pain often shifts towards the lower right abdomen area.
  • The pain is often very severe when pressed. Also, it increases when you move your legs, sneeze, or cough.
  • Some people don’t have pain in the belly button (appendicitis starts as lower right quadrant pain).
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite).
  • Nausea and vomiting may be present.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Generalized fatigue.
  • Fever (in about 40% of the patients).
  • Frequent urination.

Acute appendicitis is always confused with severe gastroenteritis, especially if there is diarrhea.

The following are the main differences (reference):

Appendicitis (early stage)
1. Abdominal pain Location
Around the belly button, then shifts to the right.Anywhere, mainly in the lower central abdomen.
2. Improvement of pain after defecation
NoYes (partial or complete)
3. Nausea onset
After the onset of pain.Before the onset of pain
None or slightNone or slight
Pain on touching the abdomen (tenderness)
It may not present around the umbilicus in the early stages.Mild or none.
in <50% of cases (children)in >50% of patients (children)
The course of pain
-Increases over time-becomes more localized (lower right)Starts severe and often decreases over time.
White blood cell count
often > 10000Often < 10000

What to do:

  • Unfortunately, early appendicitis symptoms (such as belly button pain) are initially subtle.
  • The condition becomes apparent when the inflammation progress.
  • Seek emergency medical help if your belly button pain rapidly progresses into a sharp pain or shifts to the lower right abdomen.

2. Umbilical hernia.

Umbilical (belly button) hernia is the second most common type in humans after inguinal hernia (reference).

An umbilical hernia is caused by a defect in the abdominal wall behind the belly button. The defect allows for the passage of abdominal wall fat and intestinal loops through the defect.

An umbilical hernia can cause sharp or stabbing belly button pain. They are more common in women and other conditions that lead to increased intraabdominal pressure.

Common causes of increased intraabdominal pressure include (reference):

  • Ascites.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Obesity.
  • Chronic abdominal distension (gas).

Symptoms of umbilical hernia:

  • Asymptomatic: many patients with umbilical hernia have no pain or other symptoms. Only they notice a bulge inside or near their belly button.
  • Belly button bulge: a bulge inside the belly button with or without pain is the commonest complaint. The bulge is cyst-like and reduces in size when pressed.
  • Belly button pain: is often sharp or bulling pain. The pain increases with coughing, straining, or sneezing.
  • Large-sized hernias: Most small-sized hernias are asymptomatic. However, larger umbilical hernias are often asymptomatic and may cause sharp belly button pain when you try to press.
  • Complications: Umbilical hernia may cause a (strangulation) of the intestinal loops inside it, which causes sharp or stabbing pain. Although rare, the strangulated hernia is a surgical emergency as it may lead to the death of the strangulated loop or rupture of the hernia.
  • Belly button color changes: Long-lasting medium or sizeable umbilical hernia may darken the skin over the hernia (hyperpigmentation). However, acute bluish or blackish discoloration with sharp belly button pain may indicate a complicated umbilical hernia.
  • Very small Hernias: Very small umbilical hernias are also common. Small hernias often don’t contain a loop of the intestine but a small collection of fatty tissue. A small umbilical hernia may cause sharp or bulling abdominal pain without a visible bulge.

3. Other causes of sharp belly button pain.

Umbilical hernia and early acute appendicitis are the most common and most important causes of sharp belly button pain. We gathered all other causes under the (other causes) section.

The causes below are possible sharp, bullying, or stabbing belly button pain.



Gastrointestinal diseases

The pain is often diffuse and not restricted to the umbilicus. But sharp belly button pain occurs with pain in other abdomen areas.

Common causes:
– Irritable bowel syndrome.
– Food intolerance or food allergy.
– Intestinal Obstruction.
– DIverticulitis, Diverticular disease.
– Mesenteric ischemia.
– Colorectal cancer.
– Crohn’s disease.
– Celiac disease.
– Peptic ulcer disease.
– Severe constipation or fecal impaction.
– Mesenteric adenitis.

Intra-abdominal Infections

The condition is often accompanied by fever and severe diffuse abdominal pain (including sharp belly button pain).

Common Causes:
– Gastroenteritis.
– Umbilical infection.
– Peritoneal abscess.
– The liver abscess.
– Intraperitoneal abscess.
– Urinary tract infection, Bladder infection.

Intra-abdominal cancers

– Sometimes, cancers inside the abdomen cause umbilical nodules called (Sister Marie Joseph’s nodules), which cause sharp belly button pain.
– Associated symptoms include abdominal pain, abdominal distension (ascites), weight loss, anorexia, etc.

Causes include:
– Colorectal cancer.
– stomach cancer.
– Ovarian cancer.
– Pancreatic cancer.
– Wilm’s tumor (in children).
– Liver cancer.

Other causes of sharp belly button pain– Ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm.
– Diabetic ketoacidosis.
– Functional abdominal pain.
– Abdominal migraine.