Hiatal hernia is a condition which occurs when a part of the stomach forces itself upward
through the diaphragm. The diaphragm has a small opening called the hiatus, which is involved in allowing the esophagus to connect with the stomach. When the stomach pushes through the hiatus, hiatal hernia takes place.
Most of the time, a mild hiatal hernia will not result in any problems unless your doctor identifies it while diagnosing another condition. However, large or severe hiatal hernias can cause the stomach acids and food to rise up the esophagus, thus resulting in heartburn.
Treatment options such as self-care measures and medications can effectively relieve symptoms of hiatal hernia. A large hiatal hernia may require surgical correction.
Signs and symptoms
Small hiatal hernias are usually left unnoticed and usually cause no signs or symptoms.
Large hiatal hernias may result in signs and symptoms such as:
- Difficulty swallowing
When to seek medical attention
See your doctor if you experience prolonged signs and symptoms that cause concern.
Hiatal hernia that does not cause any symptoms will not require any treatment. However, if symptoms such as acid reflux and heartburn occur, treatment is necessary.
Your doctor may recommend taking the following medications if you have heartburn:
- Over-the-counter antacids neutralize the acids in the stomach and provide fast relief.
- Medications that lessen the production of acids and medications that inhibit acid production and treat the esophagus can also be taken. You can take over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors that inhibit the production of acids and also help the esophagus to heal.
- Occasionally, surgery may also be needed in severe cases. Surgery is usually needed in emergency cases, for example, when medications that treat symptoms such as acid reflux and heartburn are ineffective in providing relief. Surgery for hiatal hernia is usually coupled with surgery for gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.
Surgery mainly involves pulling the stomach into the abdomen. It also employs the action of reducing the size of the opening of the diaphragm i.e. the hiatus, eliminating the hernia sac or fixing a weakened esophageal sphincter to provide relief.
Self-help and home treatment measures
For mild cases of hiatal hernia, you can relieve symptoms such as acid reflux and heartburn by following a few easy lifestyle changes. Some helpful tips are given below:
- Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. This should be done instead of having three large meals.
- Avoid alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Eat at least two to three hours before bedtime
- Certain foods tend to trigger heartburn. Avoiding foods such as spicy food, citrus fruits, onions, tomato-based products and chocolate may provide relief
- People who are overweight or obese should lose weight
- Keep your head elevated, about 6 inches, while resting
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