A hiatal hernia is a condition that develops when the upper part of your stomach bulges through the diaphragm, the large muscle that separates your abdomen from your chest. Your diaphragm has a small opening, known as a hiatus, through which the esophagus passes before it connects to the stomach. When the stomach pushes back through this opening, it’s known as a hiatal hernia. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at why these hernias develop, how they are diagnosed and the best ways to effectively treat them.
Why Do Hiatal Hernias Develop?
At the most basic level, hiatal hernias occur when the diaphragm weakens to the point that pressure from the stomach allows part of the organ to push through the hiatal opening. Typically this occurs because of a combination of factors that can lead to diaphragm weakening or increased stomach pressure, like:
- Age-related muscular degeneration
- Trauma to the area
- Genetic issues leading to a larger hiatal opening
- Having a persistent cough, regular vomiting or muscular strain during exercise or bowel movements
- Being overweight or obese
In other words, being older and heavier are considered two of the most common risk factors for developing a hiatal hernia, but weightlifters and younger individuals can also develop the condition due in part to their lifestyle.
How To Diagnose And Treat Hiatal Hernias
The good news is that the majority of hiatal hernias are asymptomatic, so most people don’t even realize they are dealing with the condition. However, the onset of a hiatal hernia also puts you at an increased risk for symptoms associated with acid reflux, so if you’re dealing with new or recurrent heartburn, talk to your primary care physician or a gastrointestinal specialist to see if your discomfort could be caused by a hiatal hernia.
If a hiatal hernia is suspected, your gastrointestinal specialist will begin by asking about your symptoms and conducting a physical exam. However, the clearest picture of the hernia will be realized with the help of a diagnostic test like a special x-ray, an endoscopy or esophageal manometry.
If a hiatal hernia is uncovered, your specialist will walk you through your treatment options. Although the hernia will not correct itself, it doesn’t mean that surgery is guaranteed. Since symptoms are oftentimes mild, you may only need to take medication that helps to reduce the effects of your stomach acid so that it doesn’t irritate your esophageal lining. These medications can either help to neutralize the acid or reduce the amount your stomach acid that is produced, limiting the likelihood that it makes its easy back up your esophagus. Most people find that medications provide enough relief that they can avoid surgery.
In rare instances where an individual has a large hiatal hernia that is still causing issues despite medications, surgery may be recommended. The most common surgical procedure for a hiatal hernia involves folding and sewing the top part of your stomach around the lower esophageal sphincter, reinforcing the area and making it less likely that stomach acid makes its way out of the stomach. This is called a fundoplication procedure, and it typically produces fantastic results for patients that progress to this stage.
So if you have been bothered by discomfort in the middle to upper portions of your chest, or you’re dealing with recurrent acid reflux, reach out to a gastrointestinal specialist to figure out what’s going on and get on the path to recovery. In the greater Twin Cities area, reach out to Dr. Bhatti and the team at Bhatti Gi Consultants today.