What is a Hiatal Hernia?
A hiatal hernia is when the upper part of the stomach protrudes into the thorax through a tear or weakness in the diaphragm. While the thought is quite disturbing, it is generally less serious than is sounds and in many cases, there are no symptoms at all.
However, as the stomach pushes up through the opening near the esophagus, it can start to put pressure on valve that divides the esophagus from the stomach and acid reflux and heartburn is often the result, known as a sliding hiatial hernia.
Large hiatal hernias are a common cause of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and so the symptoms experienced are generally related to GERD. In rare cases, the protruding part of the stomach may become twisted causing severe chest pain, difficulty swallowing and obstruction of the esophagus, known as a rolling hiatus hernia.
Common symptoms of a Hiatal Hernia
- Heartburn (a burning sensation in the chest which may travel up to the throat)
- Chest pain, often worse when lying down
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- The experience of regurgitating food, or sour liquid
What Causes a Hiatal Hernia?
The abdomen and the chest are separated by a large dome shaped muscle called the diaphragm which plays a significant role in the breathing process. The esophagus (food pipe) passes into the stomach through a small opening in the diaphragm called the hiatus.
A hiatal hernia is caused when this hiatal opening becomes weak, or there is a tear in the connective tissue, and so a part of the stomach moves through the opening and sits above the diaphragm.
The exact cause of why this happens is not fully known, although there are a number of factors that may contribute to the condition. These include:
- Inherent weakness of the diaphragm, or unusually large hiatal opening
- Anything that places intense pressure on the abdomen such as pregnancy, straining from constipation, coughing, vomiting, or lifting heavy objects.
Diagnosing a Hiatal Hernia
In most cases a hiatal hernia is discovered when looking for the cause of GERD or recurrent heartburn. A Barium x-ray or an endoscopy are the two tests that are used to make a firm diagnosis.
Help for Hiatal Hernia
In many cases where small hiatal hernias are discovered, no treatment is necessary, unless symptoms are present. When symptoms such as acid reflux occur, you physician may recommend a few over-the-counter and/or prescription medications similar to those medications used to treat GERD.
These may include antacids, such as Maalox, or Tums which may be suggested to neutralize stomach acid and grant quick but temporary relief of symptoms.
H-2-receptor blockers, such as Pepcid AC, and Zantac 75 work by decreasing the amount of acid produced, while Proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec and Aciphex work by blocking acid production thus giving the damaged esophageal tissue time to heal. In some cases, life-style changes and medication aren’t helping to relieve symptoms, or in severe cases where complications occur, surgery may be necessary.
There are a variety of natural ingredients which can help address the symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease while also promoting over-all gastrointestinal health. For example, Calc phos is of great importance in maintaining healthy tissue cells and keeping gastric juices balanced.
This useful ingredient helps to neutralize acidity and balance pH levels in the stomach therefore reducing the burn of acid reflux. Carbo veg is another great ingredient for those suffering from GERD as it helps calm, the digestive system and reduces excessive gas in your stomach.
In addition Nat phos and Mag carb work as a natural acid balancers and help reduce acid pH levels, while easing heartburn, dyspepsia, and other digestive upsets. Another beneficial homeopathic ingredient is Silicea which is a cleansing, eliminating tissue salt often used to remove degenerative matter from the body.