Umbilical hernia is a common finding in cirrhotic patients with ascites. Spontaneous disruption of the hernia and attendant discharge of ascitic fluid is an unusual and rarely reported complication in these patients and is associated with an overall mortality rate of nearly 30%. During the 5-year period 1977-1982, nine patients with hepatic cirrhosis and ascites were treated for spontaneous rupture of an umbilical hernia. Ascites was attributed to alcoholic cirrhosis in all cases and was present for an average of 21 months prior to rupture. In two cases, failed peritoneovenous shunts resulted in reaccumulation of massive ascites. Initial management included sterile occlusive dressings, fluid repletion, and intravenous antibiotic administration. Hernia repair was performed an average of 4.2 days after rupture. General anesthesia was used in eight cases and local anesthesia in one case. In one instance, the hernia became incarcerated and required urgent repair. Postoperative complications, including wound infection and colonic dilatation, occurred separately in two patients (22%). One patient died of hepatic failure 28 days after operation, for an overall mortality rate of 11%. Surviving patients have been followed for an average of 8 months, and most have done well. Spontaneous rupture of umbilical hernia in patients with ascites occurs uncommonly. Operative management is indicated uniformly and can be conducted safely when the patient's condition has stabilized. The prognosis is favorable for patients with good hepatic reserve.