What Is Omphalophobia?

  • Helen McLachlanMSc Molecular Biology & Pathology of Viruses, Imperial College London

Have you ever looked at a belly button and freaked out? It’s quite common for people to feel squeamish looking at different body parts, but did you know there is a name for the phobia of belly buttons? Omphalophobia is the extreme and irrational fear of belly buttons, which are also called navels. 

The belly button is the site where you were once connected to your mother as a baby in her womb. The umbilical cord extends from the site of the belly button, and connects a baby to the mother’s womb delivering nutrients and oxygen. After the baby is born, the cord is cut and the navel is the scar that remains. The term “omphalophobia” comes from the Greek word for navel, omphalo, and phobia from the Greek for fear, phobos. It is categorised as a specific fear, meaning the terror and dread is focused on one thing – in this case, belly buttons.1 It may be the phobic’s own belly button, or those of other people. Symptoms of the phobia may arise from touching a belly button, or even just seeing one, depending on the severity of the phobia. 

Symptoms and manifestations

All phobias cause symptoms of anxiety, and omphalophobia is no exception. When confronted with the source of the phobia, in this case, navels, an ompahlophobic may feel emotional and physical responses.1

  • Emotional:
    • Anxiety
    • Panic
    • Feelings of dread
    • Anger
  • Physical:
    • Nausea
    • Sweating
    • Elevated heart rate
    • Trembling
    • Dry mouth
    • Shortness of breath and a tight chest
    • Feeling faint

Those with omphalaphobia may also exhibit avoidance behaviours, whereby they will try to avoid places they may see a navel, including swimming pools and beaches.

Causes of omphalophobia

Phobias often begin from traumatic experiences. In the case of omphalophobia, the person with the fear may have previously experienced pain or medical procedures regarding the belly button. Others may feel unhygienic by the thought of dirt within the navel. Some people feel disgusted knowing the belly button was the site where the umbilical cord connected them to their mother as a baby.

For some, the shape or appearance of their own navel may be the cause of their discomfort. This may be linked to body dismorphic disorder.

Phobias may also be found more commonly in those who are diagnosed with other mental health disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).2,3,4

Research has also shown identical twins are more likely to share the same phobias than non-identical twins, suggesting a genetic basis for the development of a phobia.5

The fear of the navel may also develop as a result of cultural and societal influences. Exposure of the female navel and midriff is often thought of as too revealing and immodest, and is often frowned upon or banned in formal settings such as work places or schools. A person’s phobia may develop due to experiencing negative connotations with exposed belly buttons. In contrast, some cultures view the belly button and the midriff to be an attractive region of the body, with surgeries to “correct” and restructure the shape of the navel common.6

Diagnosis and assessment

If an individual suspects they have omphalophobia, the first stage of diagnosis is meeting with a medical professional, such as a GP. They will ask questions about your symptoms, how the fear impacts your daily life, and the presence of other mental health disorders.

Phobias are diagnosed according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DMV-V).7

The DSM-V criteria for the diagnosis of phobias are as follows:

  • Fear or anxiety about a specific situation or object
  • The situation or object commonly causes immediate fear and anxiety
  • The situation or object is actively avoided by the individual with the phobia. If the source of the phobia cannot be avoided, the individual endures the situation whilst feeling intense fear and anxiety
  • The fear and anxieties experienced by the phobic are disproportional to the real danger posed by the source of the phobia.
  • The fear has been present for 6 months or more.
  • The fear is not caused by the symptoms of another mental health disorder (e.g. fears related to the obsessions in OCD, or the reminder of a traumatic event in PTSD).

Treatment approaches

Talking with a therapist or psychologist can be a very effective treatment for phobias. One common talking therapy approach for phobias is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). This technique teaches the individual to recognise the thoughts of terror and anxiety, and question these feelings. 

Exposure therapy is a type of CBT, whereby a person is gradually exposed to the source of their phobia. Over time, the anxiety symptoms associated with the phobia become less severe, as the individual becomes more comfortable looking at or being in the presence of the stimulus.

Although often extremely useful in the treatment of a phobia, talking therapies may need to be supplemented with medication to manage the anxiety symptoms. A medical professional may prescribe anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications to reduce the incidence and severity of panic attacks.

Alternatively, therapies that focus on mindfulness and relaxation can also relieve the symptoms of anxiety caused by phobias. Concentrating on breathing and the feelings in your body can take the focus away from the feelings of terror in the moment, and also relieve the symptoms of stress long-term. Having higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol circulating within the blood can cause panic attacks and other symptoms of fear. Taking steps, such as practising mindfulness, can reduce cortisol levels, helping to manage the debilitating symptoms of a phobia.

Lastly, patients with phobias can often find the fears can be relieved after treatment with hypnotherapy. A registered healthcare professional will use hypnosis to change the phobic’s thoughts and behaviours so that the trigger is no longer a source of fear. Hypnotherapy can also be used to access memories and understand the cause of the phobia if triggered by a traumatic event.

Coping strategies

As mentioned, relieving stress can contribute to the lessening of anxiety symptoms and panic. There are many self-help techniques which can be learned to help cope with sources of fear or distress. Breathing exercises are a great way to calm yourself, and can easily be incorporated into daily life. Ensuring sufficient and good-quality sleep, and reducing caffeine intake, will also help to relieve stress and anxiety. 

Talking is an important method for coping with fear and anxiety, but it doesn’t have to be with a healthcare professional. Having a good support network, and talking about your phobia comfortably with family and friends may lessen the stress felt, and help to manage the anxiety. Additionally, support groups for general phobias, or the specific phobia itself, can help an individual to understand their phobia, and learn that they are not alone.


Omphalophobia is the irrational fear of belly buttons. This can be the thought, the sight, or the feel of the belly button, and causes emotional distress and physical feelings of anxiety, including panic attacks, heart palpitations, sweating, and nausea. Phobias can be extremely debilitating and individuals often use avoidance tactics to limit exposure to the source of the phobia. Many treatments for phobias exist, and can be extremely helpful in tackling the symptoms of anxiety and fear felt in these individuals. These treatments are tailored to each individual, and may include talking therapies, stress-relief and hypnotherapy. If you think you may be experiencing a phobia, such as omphalophobia, which is impacting your daily life, please seek professional help and contact a medical professional. 


What is ompahlophobia?

Omphalophobia is the phobia of belly buttons (also called navels). An individual with omphalophobia has an intense irrational fear of the sight or feel of belly buttons, either their own or the belly buttons of other people. 

What causes omphalophobia?

Nobody knows the exact cause of a phobia, but they are often triggered by traumatic events. In the case of omphalophobia, this may be pain or discomfort in or around the belly button.

How do you know if you have omphalophobia?

Specific phobias such as omphalophobia are diagnosed according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Specific phobias are diagnosed7 based upon the following criteria:

  • Experiencing immediate fear or anxiety about a specific situation or object, which lasts for 6 months or longer.
  • The individual employs avoidance behaviour to escape the situation or object associated with the phobia.
  • The fear and anxieties are irrational and are disproportional to the real danger posed by the source of the phobia.

How do I get rid of omphalophobia?

Specific phobias such as omphalophobia can be treated in many different ways. Talking therapies help to understand the source of the anxieties felt, and teach the phobic to challenge the thoughts and behaviours which occur in response to the source of the fear. Medications such as anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication can also be used to manage the anxiety symptoms of a fear. Techniques to help manage stress levels can lower an individual’s anxiety symptoms, and help manage worry and tension.


  1. Samra CK, Abdijadid S. Specific phobia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 3]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499923/
  2. Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month dsm-iv disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication(Ncs-r). Arch Gen Psychiatry [Internet]. 2005 Jun [cited 2023 Dec 3];62(6):617–27. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2847357/
  3. Burstein M, Georgiades K, He JP, Schmitz A, Feig E, Khazanov GK, et al. Specific phobia among u. S. Adolescents: phenomenology and typology. Depress Anxiety [Internet]. 2012 Dec [cited 2023 Dec 3];29(12):1072–82. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955257/
  4. Ollendick TH, Raishevich N, Davis TE, Sirbu C, Öst LG. Specific phobia in youth: phenomenology and psychological characteristics. Behav Ther [Internet]. 2010 Mar [cited 2023 Dec 3];41(1):133–41. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3380611/
  5. Kendler KS, Myers J, Prescott CA, Neale MC. The genetic epidemiology of irrational fears and phobias in men. Archives of General Psychiatry [Internet]. 2001 Mar 1 [cited 2023 Dec 3];58(3):257–65. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.58.3.257
  6. Hespe GE, Stepien DM, Sherif RD, Gilman RH. Umbilicoplasty in abdominoplasty: modifications for improved aesthetic results. Aesthet Surg J Open Forum [Internet]. 2021 Jun 19 [cited 2023 Dec 3];3(3):ojab025. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8374960/
  7. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders [Internet]. Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Association; 2013 [cited 2023 Dec 3]. Available from: https://psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Holly Stowell-Connolly

PhD – Translational Health Sciences, University of Bristol, UK

Holly is a post-doctoral researcher, currently working to develop treatments to halt the damage caused to the kidney in diabetes. She is passionate about understanding how the kidney becomes damaged in diseases such as diabetes and has spent her academic career performing this research into kidney disease at the University of Bristol, where she performed her PhD, and the University of Exeter, where she gained her Bachelors.

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