A hiatal hernia is a common condition that is caused when the upper part of the stomach protrudes through the opening in the diaphragm and into the esophagus. For most people, small hiatal hernias do not cause too much trouble and can often go undetected until a doctor finds it when checking for other conditions. However, if someone suffers from a larger hiatal hernia then it can be more obvious. When a larger hiatal hernia occurs, food and acid can back up into the esophagus which can cause chest pain and heartburn.
There are a couple different types of hiatal hernias that one can suffer from. The first is the fixed type. This means that a portion of the upper stomach is always stuck inside the esophagus and never falls back down into proper position. There is also the sliding type of hiatal hernia which means that under pressure the stomach will slide up into the esophagus but once the pressure is relieved, the stomach will once again fall back into normal position.
There are different factors that may contribute to the cause of a hiatal hernia. Obesity, smoking, intense coughing, sitting in a slouched position, straining during a bowel movement, heavy lifting or constant bending over, congenital birth defects, and heredity can all play a role in getting a hiatal hernia.
Some people may not have any symptoms of a hiatal hernia, but some may experience chest discomfort, hiccups, belching, coughing, difficulty swallowing, and heart burn. Abdominal pain may be felt by some when the upper portion of the stomach enters into the esophagus and becomes trapped. In rare cases, the portion of the stomach that slides into the esophagus can be come strangulated. This is when the blood flow is cut off to that area of the stomach and this can cause severe pain and severe illness. This is an emergency and should be medically treated immediately.
In order to determine if a hiatal hernia is in fact causing the discomfort there are a few tests that can be performed. An ECG or Electrocardiogram will check the heart rhythms to ensure there is no heart disease involved. A chest x-ray can be taken to make sure pneumonia or lung problems are not causing the discomfort. Blood tests will be taken to rule out infections or anemia. An endoscopy may be performed to look inside and see what is going on in the esophagus, diaphragm and stomach, and a barium swallow or upper GI x-ray can help a radiologist get a good view of the digestive tract.
In order to minimize or prevent symptoms from a hiatal hernia you can make a few changes at home. First, improving your posture can help keep your stomach from being pushed up near the esophagus. Avoid lifting heavy object, bending over too often or straining your self. Make sure you are not overweight. Stay physically active and try walking or standing right after eating to keep food from rising in the stomach. Also sleeping on an incline can help minimize symptoms as well. Stay away from fried foods, fatty foods, caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, and large meals. Try to eat several small meals a day instead of three larger meals and avoid eating meals 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
To treat symptoms of hiatal hernia you can try taking over-the-counter antacids. For those that do not find relief from over-the-counter medications you may need a prescription strength antacid. Antacids such as Prevacid, Prilosec or Aciphex are often prescribed to treat hiatal hernia symptoms. In extremely severe cases or in the event of an emergency, surgery may be performed as a final option.
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