What is a Hiatal Hernia?
A Hiatal Hernia is a weakness is a weakness or stretching of the upper digestive tract where is passes through the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the large muscle that separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity (belly). Because of this stretching, acid from the stomach may flow back into the esophagus (the swallowing tube that connects the mouth and stomach). This acid causes irritation and heartburn. Part of the stomach may also come up through the opening into the lower chest. Hiatal Hernias can affect people of all ages, but they are more common in people older than 50.
What Causes a Hiatal Hernia?
The cause is unknown. Obesity, pregnancy, straining or lifting with tightened abdominal muscles, coughing, abdominal trauma, and long-term constipation or straining with bowel movements may slightly increase the chance of having a hiatal hernia.
What are the Symptoms of a Hiatal Hernia?
People often have no symptoms, but when they do occur, it is usually after meals. They include heartburn, chest pain or upper abdominal pain, belching, and occasionally swallowing problems. Bending over or lying down can make heartburn worse. Complications like bleeding, ulcers, or narrowing and scarring of the food passage is caused by irritation of the esophagus from chronic heartburn and acid reflux.
How is a Hiatal Hernia Diagnosed?
Your doctor uses endoscopy or barium swallow x-rays to diagnose a hiatal hernia. In endoscopy, a small lighted tube with a tiny camera on the end is passed into the esophagus and stomach to see the hernia. Pressure measurements (manometry) are rarely done to prove that there is lower pressure where the esophagus and stomach meet or to check for a motility (movement) problem in the esophagus.
How is a Hiatal Hernia Treated?