A hiatus hernia is where part of your stomach pokes through the opening of your diaphragm at the point where your oesophagus passes through. This opening is something of a weak point so it's relatively easy for a small portion of the stomach to slide through into your chest cavity.
There are two main types of hiatus hernia - the sliding hiatus hernia and the rolling hiatus hernia. The sliding variety is by far the most common, and occurs when the top part of your stomach (gastroesophageal sphincter) slides up through your diaphragm. A rolling hiatus hernia, on the other hand, occurs when part of your stomach moves up through the opening but your gastroesophageal sphincter remains below.
The symptoms of a hiatus hernia can very from person to person. In some cases, there will be no obvious signs of a problem. However, most people will feel a burning sensation in their chest as well as hiccups, belching, and unusual gurgling sounds from the chest area. Symptoms may get noticeably worse soon after you eat or lie down.
If left untreated, a hiatus hernia (predominantly those of the rolling variety), can give rise to more serious health problems. A hiatus hernia can allow acid from your stomach to continually come into contact with the bottom of your oesophagus. Ulcers can soon develop which in turn can cause anaemia and narrowing of the oesophagus.
A hiatus hernia can also cause blood supply problems if it becomes strangulated in the chest area. Such cases require immediate surgery to prevent potentially life threatening conditions from developing.
There are a number of possible ways to treat a hiatus hernia. Most cases of sliding hiatus hernias do not require surgery. They usually pose not serious health risk so treatment focuses on addressing the symptoms rather than providing a cure. You may be ale to reduce the symptoms of a hiatus hernia by losing weight, stopping smoking, following a low carb/low fat diet, and by eating little and often. Antacid medication can also be used to help control the symptoms.
Surgery will be recommended in most cases of rolling hiatus hernias as there is a greater risk of developing more serious conditions. Hiatus hernia operations are relatively straightforward, and most patients will be able to return home after a day or two. Side-effects and complications from hernia surgery are rare but can include excessive bloating, temporary pain when swallowing, and, is some cases, long-term discomfort.
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