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Diastasis recti

Diastasis recti is a separation between the left and right side of the rectus abdominis muscle. This muscle covers the front surface of the belly area.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Diastasis recti is a common in newborns. It is seen most frequently in premature and African American infants.

Pregnant women may develop the condition because of increased tension on the abdominal wall. The risk is higher if with multiple births or many pregnancies.

Women who are 12 or more weeks pregnant should not do exercises that stress the abdomen. This may worsen the condition.

Symptoms

A diastasis recti looks like a ridge, which runs down the middle of the belly area. It stretches from the bottom of the breastbone to the belly button. It increases with muscle straining.

In infants, the condition is most easily seen when the baby tries to sit up. When the infant is relaxed, you can often feel the edges of the rectus muscles.

Diastasis recti is commonly seen in women who have multiple pregnancies, because the muscles have been stretched many times. Extra skin and soft tissue in the front of the abdominal wall may be the only signs of this condition in early pregnancy. In the later part of pregnancy, the top of the pregnant uterus is often seen bulging out of the abdominal wall. An outline of parts of the unborn baby may be seen in some severe cases.

Signs and tests

The doctor can diagnose this condition with a physical exam.

Treatment

No treatment is needed for pregnant women with this condition.

In infants, the rectus abdominis muscles continue. The diastasis recti will disappear over time. Surgery may be needed if the baby develops a hernia that becomes trapped in the space between the muscles.

Expectations (prognosis)

In most cases, diastasis recti usually heals on its own.

Pregnancy-related diastasis recti often lasts long after the woman gives birth. Exercise may help improve the condition. Umbilical hernia may occur in some cases. If pain is present, surgery may be needed.

Complications

In general, complications only result when a hernia develops.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider right was if a child with diastasis recti:

  • Develops redness or pain in the abdomen
  • Has vomiting that does not stop
  • Cries all the time

References

Marx, J. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2009.

Anderson, DM. Mosby's Medical Dictionary. 8th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2009.

Updated: 6/9/2013

Sameer Patel, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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