What is hiatal hernia?


Know the basics

What is hiatal hernia?

A hiatal hernia is a condition in which the upper part of the stomach bulges through an opening in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle wall that separates the stomach from the chest.

The diaphragm helps keep acid from coming up into the esophagus. When you have a hiatal hernia, it’s easier for the acid to come up. The leaking of acid from the stomach into the esophagus is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease may cause complications in stomach and throat.

How common is hiatal hernia?

Everyone at every age may have risk of having this condition. However, Hiatal hernias occur more often in women, people who are overweight, and people older than 50. You can minimize the chance of having hernias by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of hiatal hernia?

People often have no symptom, but when they do occur, they are usually about an hour after meals. They include: heartburn, chest pain, belching, and rarely swallowing problem.

Bending over or lying down can make heartburn worse.

A complication is bleeding, caused by irritation of the esophagus.

There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have been diagnosed with a hiatal hernia and you develop severe pain in the chest or abdomen, become nauseated, are vomiting, or are unable to have a bowel movement or pass gas, you may have a strangulated hernia or an obstruction, which are medical emergencies. Call your doctor immediately. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Know the causes

What causes hiatal hernia?

Most of the time, the cause is not known. Your diaphragm normally has a small opening (hiatus) through which your food tube (esophagus) passes on its way to connect to your stomach. The stomach can push up through this opening and cause a hiatal hernia.

Hiatal hernia could be caused by:

  • Injury to the area
  • Being born with an unusually large hiatus
  • Persistent and intense pressure on the surrounding muscles, such as when coughing, vomiting or straining during a bowel movement, or while lifting heavy objects

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for hiatal hernia?

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing hiatal hernia by increasing pressure in the abdomen such as from pregnancy, obesity, coughing, or straining during bowel movements. Besides, people whose ages above 50 have higher chance of having hiatal hernia.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is hiatal hernia diagnosed?

The doctor uses endoscopy or barium swallow x-rays to diagnose hiatal hernias. In endoscopy, a small lighted tube with a tiny camera on the end is passed into the esophagus to see the hernia. Pressure measurements (manometry) may be done to prove that there is lower pressure where the esophagus meets the stomach.

How is hiatal hernia treated?

The goals of treatment are to control symptoms and prevent complications. The main approach is changing lifestyle and diet. Raising the head of the bed 4 to 6 inches (with wooden blocks or bricks, not pillows) will keep stomach acid from backing up and reaching the esophagus during sleep. Avoid foods and drinks that make symptoms worse.

Medicines can be used when these changes arenot enough:

  • Antacids that neutralize stomach acid
  • Medications to reduce acid production include ranitidine, famotidine, and proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole.

If symptoms cannot be controlled or complications such as scarring, ulceration, or bleeding occur, surgery may be needed to correct the hernia.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hiatal hernia?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with hiatal hernia:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Eat slowly. Eat four or five small daily meals instead of one or two large meals.
  • Donot eat fried, spicy, and fatty foods; citrus juices, peppermint; and spices that may irritate the hernia.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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