Hiatal hernia is a condition in which part of the stomach extends through an opening the diaphragm into the chest. The diaphragm is the sheet of muscle that divides the chest from the abdomen.
Hernia - hiatal
The exact cause of hiatal hernias is unknown. The condition may be due to a weakening of the supporting tissue. Your risk for the problem goes up with age, obesity, and smoking. Hiatal hernias are very common. The problem occurs often in people over 50 years old.
This condition may cause reflux (backflow) of gastric acid from the stomach into the esophagus.
Children with this condition are usually born with it (congenital). It often occurs with gastroesophageal reflux in infants.
A hiatal hernia by itself rarely causes symptoms. Pain and discomfort are due to the upward flow of stomach acid, air, or bile.
Exams and Tests
The goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms and prevent complications. Treatments may include:
- Medicines to control stomach
- Medicine to strengthen the muscles in the lower esophagus that keeps stomach contents from backing up
- Surgery to repair the hiatal hernia
Other measures to reduce symptoms include:
- Avoiding large or heavy meals
- Not lying down or bending over right after a meal
- Reducing weight and not smoking
- Raising the head of the bed 4 to 6 inches
If medicines and lifestyle measures do not help control symptoms, you may need surgery.
Treatment can relieve most symptoms of hiatal hernia.
- Pulmonary (lung) aspiration
- Slow bleeding and iron deficiency anemia (due to a large hernia)
- Strangulation (closing off) of the hernia
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- You have symptoms of a hiatal hernia.
- You have a hiatal hernia and your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment.
- You develop new symptoms.
Controlling risk factors such as obesity may help prevent hiatal hernia.
Richter JE, Friedenberg FK. Gastroesophageal reflux disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 43.
Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.