Hiatal hernias are more common in people over 50. Because they occur when the top part of your stomach pushes up through your diaphragm, they are associated with a range of conditions that include indigestion and GERD. Fixing a hiatal hernia can eliminate symptoms and help you feel more like yourself again.

What is a Hiatal Hernia?

Your body cavity is divided in half by a large muscle wall called the diaphragm. In people who have hiatal hernias, a portion of your stomach pushes up through the diaphragm. The result can be uncomfortable symptoms that include acid reflux.

Types of Hiatal Hernias

Hiatal hernias are broken down into two types. Sliding hiatal hernias are more common. These happen when the stomach and esophagus slide in and out of the chest cavity. These hernias tend to be smaller.

Fixed hiatal hernias are less common. When they occur, the stomach slides up into the chest and stays there. Most fixed hernias are not serious. However, they do present a risk of blocking the blood flow to the stomach, which can cause serious damage.

Causes of Hiatal Hernia

The precise cause of many people's hiatal hernias is not known. In some individuals, an injury may weaken the tissue there. This allows the stomach to push up through the diaphragm.

In others, repeated stress on the diaphragm pushes up the stomach. This physical stress can be the result of vomiting, coughing, lifting heavy objects and straining during bowel movements.

In some cases, individuals are born with abnormally large openings between the upper and lower abdominal cavity. This makes it far easier for the stomach to push up through the diaphragm.

Hiatal hernias are most common in people over the age of 50. Around 60 percent of individuals will have it by the time they reach the age of 60.

Smoking and obesity are also factors that increase your risk of developing a hiatal hernia.

Symptoms of Hiatal Hernia

Most people never experience any symptoms from either a fixed or sliding hiatal hernia. If symptoms do occur, they are usually the result of bile, air or stomach acid entering your esophagus. These symptoms can include coughing, belching, chest pain, epigastric pain and heartburn that is made worse by lying or sitting down.

An obstructed or strangulated hernia will cause symptoms that can include nausea, vomiting and an inability to pass gas or empty your bowels. If you have a strangulated hernia, it is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately.

Hiatal Hernia treatment

In most cases, hiatal hernias do not require treatment. Symptoms can be relieved through the use of antacids or medications that reduce stomach acid.

If medications do not work and you continue experiencing symptoms, surgery may be needed. Sometimes, weak esophageal muscles are rebuilt to keep acid and food from traveling out of the stomach. In other cases, surgery is performed to put the stomach back in place and make the hiatus opening smaller.