Hiatal Hernias Food reaches your stomach by sliding down a long tube, the esophagus. A sheet of internal muscle, the diaphragm, runs above the top of your stomach, keeping your stomach out of your chest area. A small opening in the diaphragm, the hiatus, allows the esophagus tube to reach your stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when part of your stomach bulges upward through the small opening in the diaphragm into the chest area. Causes

Hiatal hernias occur when the opening in the diaphragm, the hiatus, weakens. The Penn State College of Medicine, in an essay, “Hiatal Hernias,” lists the following causes of this weakness: excessive weight gain, physical activity that puts pressure on the abdomen, such as lifting heavy objects, strained bowel movements caused by constipation, pregnancy, severe, constant coughing and major vomiting attacks. Some babies are born with hiatal hernias. Symptoms Hiatal hernia symptoms can mimic other ailments.

You may experience heartburn, because stomach acid can now move out of the stomach and back up the esophageal tube. The heartburn can worsen and cause gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, in which you experience nausea, vomiting and chest pain after meals. The acid reflux may irritate your throat. The chest pain can imitate a heart attack. You can develop complications from an untreated hiatal hernia, such as esophageal cancer, from acid damage to your esophagus or the hernia may start internal bleeding. Medication and Diet

Make an appointment with a gastroenterologist if you are experiencing persistent heartburn, nausea, vomiting or chest pain after meals. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine, notes that your physician will first prescribe medication to control your stomach’s acidity. You may be asked to keep a diary about the foods you eat, so that you can eliminate foods which cause your stomach to produce more acid. Lifestyle Changes Your doctor will recommend lifestyle modifications ,such as not lying down or bending over directly after eating a meal.

You will be told to start sleeping with the head of your bed elevated. You may be advised to lose weight and give up smoking. If medication, diet and lifestyle changes do not work, you may have undergo surgery to repair your hiatal hernia. Hiatal hernia repair surgery has been performed successfully since 1919, according to “The History of Hiatal Hernia Surgery,” published in the in the “Annals of Surgery. ” Your chances for a successful outcome are good if you decide to have an operation.