What is Hiatal Hernia?
Resting crossways between your chest and abdomen is a muscle called the diaphragm. Your heart lies above it, the stomach below it and the esophagus runs through it. The diaphragm has an opening called a hiatus, and, sometimes, the muscles of your abdomen can press up against the diaphragm and bulge through the hiatus. It is what’s known as a hiatal hernia.
Small hiatal hernias rarely pose much of a threat and may not produce any symptoms. However, larger hiatal hernias may cause food and acid to reflux, leading to heartburn and GERD. (x)
A hiatal hernia occurs in two primary forms — sliding and paraesophageal. The most common type is the sliding hiatal hernia, which causes your stomach and the esophagus to slide up through the hiatus. A paraesophageal hernia, on the other hand, is rare but has more severe consequences. It causes a section of your stomach to squeeze through the hiatus where it can get trapped, causing “strangulation” to the displaced part of your stomach. (x) (x)
Since a hiatal hernia may not produce any symptoms, you may never realize your have one. When symptoms arise, medical help is imperative, including x-ray, endoscopy, and esophageal manometry to diagnose this condition. (x)
Unless more severe complications arise, treatment mainly focuses on reducing the discomfort associated with heartburn and GERD. It includes diet and lifestyle changes, medication and dietary supplements. In some cases, you may require laparoscopic surgery for diagnoses and determine the severity of the health concern. Surgeons perform this operation with small incisions to look at the area in question. (x)
Hiatal Hernia Symptoms
Hiatal hernias may not cause any noticeable problems, especially if they’re small. (x) However, more serious hiatal hernias can cause a whole range of symptoms. They include: (x) (x)
- Involuntary food regurgitation
- Acid reflux
- Problems swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Vomiting blood
- Passing black stool, which is often a sign of gastrointestinal bleeding
Hiatal Hernia Mimics a Heart Attack
The symptoms of a hiatal hernia can mimic those of a heart attack. In fact, many people only realize they have a hernia when they seek treatment for what they think is a cardiovascular event. For example, chest pains that radiate to the back, neck and arms can occur during heart attacks and because of a hernia. However, during a heart attack, people may also experience jaw ache, pain located mainly in the shoulders and arms, heart palpitations, sweating and extreme weakness or fatigue. (x) Chest pains are always a cause for concern, so seek help right away when in doubt.
Also, see a doctor if you are vomiting blood, experiencing palpitations, feeling faint, having a persistent cough or fever, experiencing shortness of breath, dark tarry stool, or inability to swallow liquids or solids.
Causes of Hiatal Hernia
Several factors can cause the stomach to herniate through the hiatus. Women who are pregnant, people over 50 and smokers are more likely to experience one. Sudden physical exertion like coughing, vomiting or lifting something heavy can cause it as well. (x)
Hiatal Hernia Remedies and Supplements
With a hiatal hernia, you may not experience symptoms. Therefore, you don’t seek treatment. However, you may experience symptoms such as recurring heartburn and acid reflux. You can treat it with diet and lifestyle adjustments, medication, dietary supplements and surgery. Take a moment to talk to your doctor about the possibility of having a hiatal hernia and ask about proper measures to relieve symptoms.
Diet and Lifestyle
You cannot prevent most causes of hiatal hernia, but if you think otherwise, that’s fine. Your overall well-being and state of mind regulate your health. However, obesity is one of the preventable causes of hiatal hernias. (x) Maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking are two ways to minimize risk.Since gastrointestinal reflux (GERD) is a common complaint with hiatal hernias, most medical professionals recommend the following treatment protocol for GERD. It means avoiding acidic foods that can trigger reflux, eating smaller, more frequent meals, not eating a few hours before bedtime, remaining upright after eating and wearing loose-fitting clothing. (x)
Foods to Avoid for Hiatal Hernia
Avoiding food that can irritate our digestive system is vital. Most of these foods have high-acidic levels, which is the main problem in eating them. Some foods to avoid:
- Citrus fruits including lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange
- Cranberries and cranberry juice
- Fried and fatty foods
- Carbonated beverages
- Tomato-based foods including pizza, spaghetti sauce and salsa
Foods You Don’t Have to Avoid for Hiatal Hernia
On the other hand, some foods have low acid levels and are not likely to exacerbate the symptoms of hiatal hernia. These foods include:
- Green beans
- Lean meat
- Low-fat milk or yogurt
- Low-fat chocolate or sweets
How You Cook Your Food Stops GERD
Since fatty foods can exacerbate GERD caused by a hiatal hernia, specific cooking methods make food easier to digest. Steaming, broiling and baking keep the fat content down compared to cooking methods like frying. In addition, consider skimming off the fat from meat if possible before cooking. (x)
Recommended medications for GERD caused by a hiatal hernia focus on reducing the acid in the stomach. Over-the-counter or prescription antacids like omeprazole or lansoprazole may provide relief. Consult with your healthcare professional before starting any medications. (x)
Supplements for Hiatal Hernia Relief
Any time you consider taking a new supplement, talk with your physician first to ensure it will not cause adverse reactions to any medications. Some supplements that may help with hiatal hernia:
- Aloe Vera
Just like how it can soothe irritated skin, aloe vera helps and relieves irritation of the esophagus caused by acid reflux. (x) A study performed on 79 participants proved positive results when they ingested an aloe vera syrup as a combined treatment. The treatment also proved safe, with the frequency of GERD symptoms decreasing over the study’s four-week period. (x) As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 mg once daily with 8 oz of water or as directed by a physician. People with diabetes, kidney problems or ulcerative colitis shouldn’t use aloe.
Fennel may help promote digestive health. The recommended dosage for this supplement is 1,000 milligrams once or twice per day. However, avoid using this product if you are allergic to carrots and celery. Consult your doctor first before taking this supplement if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, skin-sensitive disorders or hormone-sensitive disorders. (x) Research reports when you ingest fennel, the supplement releases gastric enzymes into your digestive system. It aids your digestive process while relaxing the colon. (x)
Most health-conscious people know ginger for its anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, it eases abdominal and digestive discomfort. Ginger also contains bioactive compounds with antacid effects. The recommended dosage for ginger is 1,000 milligrams per day taken with lots of water. Discuss with your doctor before using this supplement, especially if you are pregnant or have diabetes. (x)
Where to Buy Supplements for Hiatal Hernia?
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Surgery for Hiatal Hernia
Your doctor may recommend surgery as a medical solution for hiatal hernia and associated symptoms in some cases. Surgery, however, is often the last resort, and surgery for those patients who are unresponsive to heartburn and acid reflux medication or have severe inflammation and narrowing of the esophagus. Truthfully, surgery is the last result, you don’t want to have surgery — avoid it as best you can. However, the cut-off of blood flow from the stomach caused by the hernia means surgery is also the most appropriate treatment. (x)
The Bottom Line
A hiatal hernia occurs when stomach muscles push the esophagus against the muscles of the diaphragm. Many times, this condition does not produce any symptoms. However, patients may experience acid reflux and complications resulting from reflux.
The symptoms of a hiatal hernia may look similar to those of a heart attack. Therefore, seek medical advice if you are unsure whether what you are experiencing is signs of a hiatal hernia or heart attack.
Anyone can get a hiatal hernia, but obesity, smoking and old age increase the risk of having the condition. Treatments include antacids and surgery. Health professionals recommend supplements as they promote gut health, ease the irritation and improve your well being.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.