If you find yourself frequently taking antacids after a meal to relieve yourself of a heartburn, it's time to see your family physician to rule out a hiatal hernia. This is a condition that forces part of your stomach up through a tear in your diaphragm, pinching off that part of your stomach. The pain that follows resembles heartburn. Antacids reduce the pain but don't correct the situation. Here is what you need to know about hiatal hernias and how they are treated.
It Starts with a Weakness in Your Diaphragm
The diaphragm is a muscle between your chest and abdomen that your body uses to fill your lungs with air and empty them again. Your stomach sits right below the diaphragm. With a hiatal hernia, a weakness in this muscle allows part of the stomach to come up through it. Stress in the area can cause this to happen. The stress can be due to:
- repeated forceful coughing
- abdominal cramping and vomiting
- straining during a bowl movement
- lifting heavy objects
Two Types of Hiatal Hernia
The first type of hernia, called a sliding hernia, is the most common. It occurs when a small part of your stomach slides in and out of a small tear in the diaphragm. These are often so small that they don't cause you any pain or other symptoms.
A fixed hiatal hernia can be more serious. This is when a larger portion of the stomach protrudes through the diagram and stays there. This can become a serious medical problem if the blood supply to that part of the stomach becomes cut off because of the diaphragm pinching on it.
Symptoms of Your Hernia
Heartburn is commonly associated with a hiatal hernia, but you can have a number of other symptoms as well such as:
- leaning over or lying down increases the heartburn
- pain in your chest or esophagus
- difficulty swallowing
- frequent belching after eating
Depending on the severity of the hiatal hernia, your doctor may recommend only treating the symptoms. If the discomfort gets worse, surgery must be done to correct the problem.
Medication Treatment - Your doctor can prescribe medications to reduce the pain. The medications work in two ways:
- neutralize the acid produced by your stomach when eating
- limit the amount of stomach acid that is produced during meals
Surgical Treatment - When the threat of damage to the stomach due to a cutoff of the blood flow is present, your doctor will recommend one of several types of hernia surgery, including:
- pushing the stomach out of the diaphragm and repairing the hernia opening
- restructuring the diaphragm muscles to strengthen the area and prevent future tears in the muscle
Lifestyle Changes - Your doctor may also suggest a number of lifestyle changes to avoid a recurrence of the hernia and pain. These changes can include:
- losing weight
- learning to lift heavy objects safely
- exercising to strengthen the abdominal muscles
- avoiding certain foods that trigger high stomach acid production
For professional help with this disorder, contact a facility such as Tampa Bay Reflux Center.