A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper portion of the stomach bulges through the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the abdomen and chest.
A small, minor hiatal hernia isn’t typically a cause for concern, often going unnoticed unless a doctor discovers it while checking for another condition. Large hiatal hernias, however, may allow food and stomach acid into the esophagus – a major cause of heartburn. Lifestyle changes or medication can help alleviate symptoms, but in more severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
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If weakened muscle tissue allows your stomach to push through your diaphragm, a hiatal hernia is the result. The cause of this GI condition is not always clear, but may occur due to the following:
The following groups face a higher risk of developing a hiatal hernia:
Many patients don’t experience any symptoms at all, but for those who do, the most common are related to chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Symptoms include:
Keep in mind that not everyone with a hiatal hernia experiences acid reflux – and every case of acid reflux is not necessarily related to a hiatal hernia. But if these symptoms are occurring more often, they might be related. Visit your local GI specialist to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Other possible warning signs of a hiatal hernia might include:
There are two main types: sliding hiatal hernias and paraoesophageal hiatal hernias. The sliding variety, Type 1, is most common. Paraoesophageal (meaning “beside the esophagus”) hernias are divided into three types. Our Charleston GI physicians are equipped to diagnose and treat the following:
The most common problem that results from a hiatal hernia is chronic acid reflux. This GI condition can cause esophageal damage over time if not properly managed with medication.
Complications of chronic acid reflux can include:
In more rare instances, hiatal hernia may cause these serious complications if it gets stuck or compressed in the hiatus:
If you are experiencing these hiatal hernia symptoms, schedule an appointment with a board-certified gastroenterologist at Charleston GI today. Our team is here to help, committed to providing a higher standard of caring – and much-needed relief. No referral needed!
Your GI physician may recommend one of the following to relieve symptoms:
Routine medical exams are key to prevention. In addition to regular visits to your GI specialists, consider the following to manage reflux symptoms and promote overall health:
What is hiatal hernia pain like?
A hiatal hernia is found where your abdomen and chest meet, so you may experience chest pain or abdominal pain. If the hernia gets compressed or pinched during certain activities (bending over, coughing, etc.), pain may worsen.
In most cases, symptoms are related to acid reflux instead of the hernia itself. When acid irritates your esophagus, a burning sensation may radiate throughout the chest. In severe cases, it may even mimic the pain experienced during a heart attack. When in doubt, seek medical attention immediately.
Why are hiatal hernias common in women?
Despite extensive research, the exact cause remains a mystery. Because weakened supporting tissue may be to blame, older individuals, smokers, obese people, or pregnant women face an increased risk.
Do hiatal hernias go away on their own?
No. In fact, hernias typically worsen over time if left untreated. If your hiatal hernia never causes any symptoms, it may not require treatment. But if it does, symptoms will likely continue or even get worse. Mild acid reflux can often be managed with medication but may require surgery if it becomes severe.
How common are hiatal hernias?
Hiatal hernias are common, especially in the aging population. affecting about 20% of all Americans. Hernias impact 50% of people over age 50, 60% over age 60, and 70% over age 70.
How serious is a hiatal hernia?
Most aren’t serious and don’t cause symptoms. You may never know that you have one! Larger hernias may cause complications and often cause symptoms.
What is the main cause of hiatal hernia?
The exact cause of hiatal hernia is unknown but may be related to weakness of the supporting tissue. That’s why the risk of hernias increases with age, obesity, and smoking.
Can a hiatal hernia be cured?
Acid reflux symptoms due to a hiatus hernia can often be managed with lifestyle changes and medication. Some sufferers may need ongoing maintenance therapy with a proton pump inhibitor.
What are common symptoms of hiatal hernia?
Most small hiatal hernias cause no symptoms at ll. But larger hiatal hernias can cause:
How does a hiatal hernia cause acid reflux?
When the gastroesophageal junction, the place where the esophagus and stomach meet, rises above your diaphragm, it pulls on the muscles that would normally contract to prevent acid from rising back up into the esophagus. When these muscles don’t function properly, stomach acid can wash back up. The hernia may also trap a pocket of acid at the top of the stomach that doesn’t clear away.
What are signs that a hiatal hernia is getting worse?
Heartburn, regurgitation, belching, hiccupping shortly after eating, or a stinging sensation in the throat may all indicate that your hiatal hernia is becoming more severe.
How effective is surgery for a hiatal hernia?
Studies show that hiatal hernia surgery has a 90% success rate, with most patients able to stop medications and enjoy a symptom-free life. Follow-up appointments are recommended yearly.
In long-term studies, up to 50% of hiatal hernias return at some point post-surgery, usually after many years. This might indicate that part of the surgery failed or that the original cause of the hernia is still active. Keep in mind that not all recurring hernias present the same symptoms.
What is recovery from hiatal hernia surgery like?
Patients typically recover in the hospital for a day or two, depending on the hernia’s severity and the type of surgery performed. Because it is minimally invasive, laparoscopic surgery requires a shorter recovery time than open surgeries.
Recovery continues at home for about two to six weeks, during which you will consume a very limited diet. Patients begin with clear liquids and gradually progress to soft foods, then solids. Weight loss after hiatal hernia surgery is common, with many people in recovery shedding about 10 to 15 pounds.
What happens if I don't get hiatal hernia surgery?
Failure to get the surgery needed may result in digestive distress, ulcers, bleeding, and a marked decline in quality of life.
What size hiatal hernia needs surgery?
There is no predetermined size when surgery is required. The decision is based on several factors, like the severity of symptoms, the presence of other medical conditions, and the preference of the patient.
What is the difference between acid reflux and hiatal hernia?
Hiatal hernia is a protrusion of gastrointestinal junction and stomach parts towards the diaphragm. Whereas GERD is a condition where the acidic contents of the stomach pass into the esophagus. This may be due to the reduced pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter muscle.
Can you have acid reflux without hiatal hernia?
Yes, sufferers may experience chronic reflux without a hiatal hernia. On the other hand, patients may have no pathologic reflux when a hiatal hernia occurs.
To learn more about treatment for GI tract issues in Charleston, SC, get in touch today! Charleston Gastroenterology is committed to a higher standard of caring – and we provide a range of medical treatments to help you feel your best.
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