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What is a hiatal hernia?

Dr. Gary W. Falk, MD
Gastroenterologist

A hiatal hernia is a common condition that may cause reflux (backflow) of gastric acid from the stomach into the esophagus. By itself, a hiatal hernia rarely causes symptoms -- though some pain, discomfort and nausea can be attributed to the reflux of gastric acid, air or bile. Reflux occurs more easily when there is a hiatal hernia.

Reducing the backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux) relieves symptoms in most cases. Medications that neutralize stomach acidity or decrease acid production may be prescribed. If these measures fail to control the symptoms, or if complications arise, surgical repair of the hernia may be necessary.

A hiatal hernia is the result of part of the upper stomach pushing through the diaphragm, the large muscle that separates the abdomen organs from the chest. The esophagus runs through an opening in the diaphragm called the hiatus. Sometimes the hiatus is larger than normal or the diaphragm muscle around it is weak. When this happens part of the upper stomach may push through the hiatus or a weak spot in the diaphragm causing symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) also known as acid reflux. Symptoms of GERD include, heartburn, belching, nausea bad breath, difficulty swallowing, and dry cough. Medications and diet are often effective ways to manage a hiatal hernia.

Dr. Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Gastroenterologist

Hiatal hernia is a common condition in which there is an opening, or hiatus, in the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen and helps with breathing. This hiatus permits part of the stomach to protrude into the chest. The resulting protrusion changes the angle at which the esophagus joins the stomach, weakening the ligaments that hold these organs in proper alignment and impairing the lower esophageal sphincter's (LES's) ability to prevent reflux. Studies indicate that a hiatal hernia, particularly if large, promotes retention of acid above the hiatus and reflux of acid into the esophagus, causing irritation and pain.

In a hiatal, or hiatus hernia, a portion of the stomach penetrates (herniates) through a weakness or tear in the hiatus of the diaphragm, the small opening that allows the esophagus to pass from the neck and chest to its connection with the stomach. Often there are no symptoms, and the condition may not cause any problems. The patient may not be aware he or she has a hiatal hernia.

Hiatal hernia is when the hole in your diaphragm is too big, which allows the stomach's juices to slosh into your esophagus.

A hiatal hernia is a natural opening that allows the esophagus to enter the abdomen as it descends from the chest. Hernias occur when abdominal contents such as the stomach push through this opening by compressing against or squeezing alongside the lower esophagus.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.