What is a Hiatal Hernia?
A hiatal hernia is the protrusion of an organ that occurs when the stomach and esophagus slide up through the diaphragm into the chest.
What Causes a Hiatal Hernia?
Hiatal hernias can occur when the muscle tissue surrounding the diaphragm opening, called a hiatus, becomes weak. This can allow the upper part of the stomach to bulge up through the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. Weakness of the hiatus can occur due to:
- Injury to the area
- Being born with a large hiatus
- Persistent and intense pressure on the surrounding muscle caused when couching, vomiting, straining during a bowel movement or lifting heavy objects.
Symptoms of Hiatal Hernia
Watch for the following signs of a possible hiatal hernia:
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Upper abdominal pain
- Difficulty swallowing
Hiatal Hernia Treatments
Hiatal hernias usually do not show any sign or symptoms, so treatment may not be necessary. In case of symptoms, heartburn medications can be used to treat discomfort and/or heartburn/acid reflux. Surgery is only required in emergency cases. Surgery usually involves pulling the stomach down into the abdomen and making the opening in the diaphragm smaller, reconstructing a weak esophageal sphincter or removing the hernia sac. In some cases, this is done using small incisions in your chest wall (thoracotomy), in the abdomen (laparotomy) or by laparoscopic surgery.