Digestive disorders are a part of everyday life for millions of Americans. Diet, stress, and chronic conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) all contribute to disrupting proper digestion.
A lesser-known cause of digestive problems is herniation, or the presence of hernias. A hernia occurs when an internal organ or fatty tissue forces itself into an area where it doesn’t belong. In the case of hiatal hernias, a part of the stomach is pushing upward through the diaphragm.
Small hiatal hernias typically lack noticeable symptoms and may not require medical treatment. It’s entirely possible that you could have a hiatal hernia and not even know until it’s discovered by a physician during an examination. On the other hand, large hiatal hernias can cause issues that disrupt digestion and in some cases require surgery.
How are hiatal hernias caused?
The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm which separates the abdomen from the chest cavity. When everything is working properly, the esophagus passes through the hiatus and attaches to the stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach swells up into the chest through that opening.
Why certain people suffer from hiatal hernias is less clear. Some may have been born with a large hiatal opening. Injury to the area or excessive pressure from surrounding muscles due to coughing, straining during bowel movements, or vomiting can also lead to hiatal hernias.
Why do hiatal hernias disrupt digestion?
If a hernia is large enough, it can cause food and acid to reflux into the esophagus, causing heartburn or GERD.
What are the symptoms of hiatal hernias?
Smaller hernias may not cause discomfort and present few, if any, other symptoms. Symptoms that indicate larger hernias which are actively disrupting digestion include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Excessive belching
- Chest pain
- Feeling especially full after meals
If left untreated, hiatal hernias can rarely become trapped in the chest or strangulated—which means the hernia begins to cut off blood to the entrapped intestine. Strangulated hiatal hernias can cause sudden pain in the chest and requires immediate medical attention. More common scenario is that hiatal hernias are found at endoscopy and may be associated with the symptoms of heartburn, regurgitation, etc., which need to be controlled. Most people do not need surgery for the hernia.
That’s why it’s crucial to be properly diagnosed by your Louisiana gastroesophageal specialist when you first notice symptoms.
Who is at risk for hiatal hernias?
People over the age of 50 are most at risk, and women tend to suffer from hiatal hernias more often than their male counterparts. Obesity is also a contributing cause to the presence of hiatal hernias.
How are hiatal hernias diagnosed in Baton Rouge?
In order to properly diagnose your gastric condition, your Baton Rouge hernia specialist will use a barium swallow or an upper endoscopy. An upper endoscopy allows your doctor to examine the esophagus and determine the cause of heartburn.
People often dismiss digestive issues without being properly diagnosed, but it’s important to be aware of hiatal hernias,. With small changes in self care or diet, most small hiatal hernias can be taken care of with little to no medical attention required. However, larger hiatal hernias can present serious complications if left untreated.
Don’t just accept digestive problems as a part of your life. Visit a gastroesophageal specialist in Baton Rouge to determine the cause of your digestive distress and start on the road to heartburn management today.