Hiatal hernia is a condition in which part of the stomach extends through an opening of the diaphragm into the chest. The diaphragm is the sheet of muscle that divides the chest from the abdomen.
Hernia - hiatal
The exact cause of hiatal hernia is unknown. The condition may be due to weakness of the supporting tissue. Your risk for the problem goes up with age, obesity, and smoking. Hiatal hernias are very common. The problem occurs often in people over 50 years.
This condition may cause reflux (backflow) of gastric acid from the stomach into the esophagus.
Children with this condition are most often born with it (congenital). It often occurs with gastroesophageal reflux in infants.
Symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Heartburn, worse when bending over or lying down
- Swallowing difficulty
A hiatal hernia by itself rarely causes symptoms. Pain and discomfort are due to the upward flow of stomach acid, air, or bile.
Exams and Tests
Tests that may be used include:
- Barium swallow x-ray
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
The goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms and prevent complications. Treatments may include:
- Medicines to control stomach acid
- Surgery to repair the hiatal hernia and prevent reflux
Other measures to reduce symptoms include:
- Avoiding large or heavy meals
- Not lying down or bending over right after a meal
- Reducing weight and not smoking
- Raising the head of the bed 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters)
If medicines and lifestyle measures do not help control symptoms, you may need surgery.
Treatment can relieve most symptoms of hiatal hernia.
Complications may include:
- Pulmonary (lung) aspiration
- Slow bleeding and iron deficiency anemia (due to a large hernia)
- Strangulation (closing off) of the hernia
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- You have symptoms of a hiatal hernia.
- You have a hiatal hernia and your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment.
- You develop new symptoms.
Controlling risk factors such as obesity may help prevent hiatal hernia.
Falk GW, Katzka DA. Diseases of the esophagus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 138.
Yates RB, Oelschlager BK, Pellegrini CA. Gastroesophageal reflux disease and hiatal hernia. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 42.
- Last reviewed on 4/24/2017
- Michael M. Phillips, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is the first of its kind, requiring compliance with 53 standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audit. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial process. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics (www.hiethics.com) and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.