risks

Hiatal Hernia

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Guide January 14, 2009
  • About a month ago, an adult family member told me he was experiencing severe acid reflux symptoms for the first time in his life. After a visit to his family doctor and a barium x-ray at his local hospital, it was determined the cause of his reflux symptoms was a hiatal hernia. For those of you who may also be experiencing acid reflux symptoms due to a hiatal hernia, the following are some fast facts to help you to begin to understand the issues.

     

    What is a hiatal hernia?

    A hernia occurs when one part of the body protrudes through a gap or opening into another part. A hiatal hernia is located at the opening of the diaphragm where the esophagus joins the stomach. Part of the stomach pushes through, causing a hiatal hernia.

     

    What are the symptoms?

    If you have a small hiatal hernia, you may not even know it, and you may not have any symptoms. However, a large hiatal hernia can allow food and acid to back up into you esophagus, leading to heartburn and chest pain. You may also be belching more than normal, and have chest pain and nausea. It may also be difficult to swallow food.

     

    What are the causes?

    The exact cause of hiatal hernia isn't known, although excessive body weight is significantly associated with hiatal hernia. In fact, one study found the probability of hiatal hernia increasing with each level of body mass index (BMI). Other risk factors include an age over 50, smoking, and any injury to the abdomen as a result of straining, as well as an inherent weakness in an individual's anatomy.

     

    What are typical treatments?

    If you have a hiatal hernia that is causing you typical reflux symptoms, your doctor may recommend a variety of treatments that run the gamut from losing a few extra pounds, to taking medication for reflux, to having surgery to repair the hernia.

     

    It is important to let your doctor know you are experiencing reflux symptoms, no matter what the cause, to prevent further complications. Like many other reflux-related disorders, early detection and treatment may simplify the final solution.