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What is hiatal hernia?

What Is A Hiatal Hernia?

A hernia is a protrusion of an organ through a wall of a cavity in which it is enclosed. In the case of a hiatal hernia, a portion of the stomach protrudes through a teardrop-shaped hole in the diaphragm where the esophagus and the stomach join.

What Causes Hiatal Hernia?

The most frequent known cause of hiatal hernia is an increased pressure in the abdominal cavity produced by coughing, vomiting, straining at stool, or sudden physical exertion. Pregnancy, obesity, or excess fluid in the abdomen also contribute to causing this condition.

Who Gets Hiatal Hernia?

Hiatal hernias may develop in people of all ages and both sexes, although it is considered to be a condition of middle age. In fact, the majority of otherwise normal people past the age of 50 have small hiatal hernias.

Are Hiatal Hernias and Heartburn Associated?

For many years, many people, including some doctors, thought that heartburn was a result of having a hiatal hernia. It is now known that small hiatal hernias are common and usually harmless. While heartburn is sometimes associated with hiatal hernia, it is not caused by it.

Heartburn occurs when the sphincter located at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach (called the LES) either relaxes inappropriately or is very weak. This allows the highly acidic contents of the stomach to back up into the esophagus. The backwash of stomach contents, known as reflux, irritates the lining of esophagus and causes heartburn.

Are There Any Complications Associated with

Hiatal Hernia?

Most hiatal hernias do not need treatment. However, if the hernia is in danger of becoming strangulated (constricted in such a way as to cut off the blood supply) or is complicated by esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus), treatment becomes necessary. To prevent strangulation, your doctor may perform surgery to reduce the size of the hernia.

Treatment of esophagitis is necessary to prevent ulcers (sores) from forming in the lining of the esophagus. When these sores heal, they can leave scars that can make it difficult or impossible to swallow. In some people, long-term esophagitis may result in Barrett's esophagus, a condition thought to be a precursor of cancer. (See the Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse fact sheet "Heartburn" for more information.) Most cases of esophagitis respond to antacids, weight reduction, and a common sense approach to eating, drinking, and other lifestyle habits. Remember, if prolonged use of antacids becomes necessary, see your doctor. Long-term use of antacids can produce side effects like diarrhea, altered calcium metabolism, and magnesium retention.

If the esophagitis persists, your doctor may perform surgery to restore the stomach to its proper position and strengthen the area around the opening.
COPYRIGHT 1990 National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Publication:Pamphlet by: National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases
Article Type:pamphlet
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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