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What is a hiatal hernia?

A hiatal hernia is a condition where the upper portion of your stomach bulges through the large diaphragm muscle separating your abdomen from your chest. This can happen to people of any age, size or gender.  Most often this is the stomach but can include other intra-abdominal organs as well.

This most commonly occurs as the natural opening is stretched beyond normal limits from weight gain, pregnancy, smoking, weightlifting or chronic constipation. Any sudden acute or chronic increase in pressure within the abdomen increases risk of developing a hernia.

 

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of people with a hiatal hernia vary from person to person. The size of the hernia may or may not produce more severe symptoms. The most common symptom of a hiatal hernia is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD occurs when digestive juices move from the stomach back into the esophagus. Symptoms of a hiatal hernia may include:

  • Heartburn
  • Bitter or sour taste in the back of the throat
  • Bloating and belching
  • Hiccups
  • Discomfort or pain in the stomach or esophagus
  • Regurgitation of food or liquids in mouth or throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest or abdominal pain*
  • Dry cough
  • Asthma
  • Repeated lung infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Postprandial fullness
  • Early satiety

*Chest pain can also be a symptom of a heart attack, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room if you experience any chest pain.

 

How is surgery for a hiatal hernia performed?

Surgery for repairing a hiatal hernia involves:

  • Reducing and/or removing the herniation from above the diaphragm opening.
  • Closing the hole in the diaphragm muscle.

Long term effects if left untreated?

  • Esophagus erosion
  • Vocal cord damage (VCD)
  • Lung aspiration/Injury
  • Barrett’s Disease
  • Side effects from medications used to treat GERD
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