A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm, the muscle inside of the chest wall. A hiatal hernia may cause no symptoms. However, symptoms can occur from the back up of stomach acids, air, or bile into the esophagus due to the hiatal hernia. This can cause heartburn, chest pain, swallowing difficulties, and belching.
A hiatal hernia is a common condition that can be prevented. It is treated with lifestyle changes and medications. Surgery is rarely needed.
A hiatal hernia in itself may cause no symptoms. Symptoms may occur when stomach acids, air, or bile back up into the esophagus causing chest pain, pressure, and burning. You may especially feel symptoms after eating, when lying down, or bending forward. You may experience belching, coughing, hiccupping, and difficulty swallowing.
In rare cases, a strangulated hernia occurs when the blood supply is cut off from the trapped portion of the stomach. A strangulated hernia causes excruciating pain and serious illness. A strangulated hernia is an emergency medical condition, and you should seek immediate treatment in the emergency room of a hospital.
A hiatal hernia may occur along with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). GERD results when stomach contents and stomach acids re-enter the esophagus. Normally, the LES closes tightly after food has entered the stomach. With GERD, the ring does not close tightly. Instead, it remains partially open allowing stomach contents and acids to pass back into the esophagus, damaging the lining. The main symptom of GERD is heartburn.
A hiatal hernia or GERD can cause chest pain with heartburn. The pain may feel dull and heavy in your chest. Heartburn does not involve your heart in any way. The condition was named “heartburn” because the area of discomfort is located near the heart. However, the chest pain with heartburn can be confused with the chest pain associated with a heart attack. You should call emergency services, usually 911, if you suspect you are having a heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain that is crushing or squeezing, or a feeling like a heavy weight is on your chest. These symptoms may occur with sweating, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, and pain that spreads from the chest to the neck or jaw.
Am I at RiskBecause the specific cause of hiatal hernia is unknown, specific risk factors are difficult to identify. However, factors that appear to contribute to the condition include obesity, poor posture, smoking, increasing age, frequently bending over, and heavy lifting. Some infants are born with the condition.
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The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on February 16, 2022. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit www.iHealthSpot.com.