A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach pushes upwards into the chest through an opening (referred to as a hiatus) in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the sheet of muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. The diaphragm is used in breathing and normally has a small opening that allows the esophagus to pass through when moving food to the stomach.
A hiatal hernia occurs when weakened muscle tissue allows the stomach to bulge through the diaphragm. Oftentimes, the reason for this is unclear. Some believe that pressure on your stomach or an injury to the area may contribute to the formation of hiatal hernia.
Persistent and intense pressure on the surrounding muscles, such as when coughing, vomiting, or straining during a bowel movement or straining while lifting heavy objects can also cause the stomach to push up through the hiatus. In addition, being born with an unusually large hiatus or an inherited weakness in the surrounding muscles may be the culprit.
Children with this condition are usually born with it, and infants with gastroesophageal reflux are often found to have a hiatal hernia. The condition is also very common in people over 50 years old. And, increasing age, obesity, and smoking are known risk factors in adults.
Chest pain, heartburn (which is worse when bending over or lying down) and/or difficulty swallowing are common symptoms of hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia rarely causes symptoms by itself. Rather, the pain and discomfort associated with it are usually result from the reflux of gastric acid, air, or bile. Other signs that may indicate a hiatal hernia include excessive belching and/or nausea.
Usually, a small hiatal hernia does not cause problems. In fact, oftentimes people may never know that they have a hiatal hernia unless a doctor discovers while checking for another condition. A large hiatal hernia, however, may allow food and acid to get backed up in the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn and chest pain. Very large hiatal hernias may require surgery.
Hiatal Hernia. Web. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed 2 Nov. 2011
Hiatal Hernia. Web. www.mayoclinic.com. Accessed 2 Nov. 2011
Hiatal Hernia. www.emedicinehealth.com. Web. Accessed 2 Nov. 2011
Reviewed November 2, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith