A hiatal hernia, also known as a hiatus hernia, is condition which occurs when part of your stomach thrusts up into the opening of the diaphragm called the hiatus. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen and the esophagus passes on its way to connect with the stomach.
Hiatal hernias prevent the diaphragm from working with the lower esophageal sphincter to keep acids from the stomach rising up into the esophagus.
Most of the time, small hiatal hernias produces no symptoms and do not cause heartburn. However, larger hiatal hernias can cause heartburn to occur when food, drink and stomach acids travel into the esophagus.
Proper diagnosis of a hiatal hernia is made through an upper GI series, endoscopy or high resolution manometry.
Larger hiatal hernias can sometimes be relieved with medications or lifestyle changes such as avoiding large and heavy meals, avoiding lying down or bending over right after a meal, reducing weight and not smoking.
However, some larger hiatal hernias can require surgery.
If left untreated, hiatal hernias can produce great discomfort and lead to severe consequences such as GERD, Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal cancer and esophagitis (any inflammation, irritation, or swelling of the esophagus.)
Hiatal hernias are common, affecting 25% of people over the age of 50 and are more prevalent in women than in men. As always, consult with your doctor about diagnosis of heartburn symptoms.
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