Here are answers to some of your questions about hiatal hernia.
What is a hiatal hernia?
A hiatal hernia is a protrusion of the upper part of the stomach into the chest through an opening or weakness in the diaphragm. There are two major types of hiatal hernias:
If not treated, what can happen?
The main symptom of a hiatal hernia is reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn. Hiatal hernia is one of the underlying causes of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), because it can cause chronic heartburn. Besides discomfort from GERD and some difficulty with swallowing, larger hiatal hernias, especially the paraesophageal type, can result in the severe consequence of the stomach having its blood supply shut off.
How will the physician know if I have hiatal hernia?
Because the hernia is protruding into the chest rather than through the abdominal wall, there is no telltale bulge, therefore, diagnosis of a hiatal hernia requires upper GI endoscopy, a barium swallow study, a CT scan or an MRI.
How can this hernia be treated?
In some patients, a hiatal hernia is asymptomatic and no specific treatment is required. Sliding hiatal hernias that present with GERD symptoms are most often treated with medications such as antacids, histamine-2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors. For paraesophageal hernias, as well as sliding hernias that become very large, surgical repair can be done. Various minimally invasive techniques are used to address this type of hernia.
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