What is a Hiatal Hernia? Symptoms and Remedies

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Hernias are uncomfortable and potentially severe injuries that can occur in people both young and old for all kinds of reasons, ranging from doing an exercise improperly to your genetics. 

A hiatal hernia is a specific type of hernia that can lead to gastrointestinal problems and frequent heartburn if you don’t identify and treat it fast enough.

Let’s take a closer look at what hiatal hernias are and how you can treat them with home remedies if they aren’t too severe when you detect them.

A Hiatal Hernia – What is It?

A hernia occurs when a section of an organ or a clump of tissue pushes through an abnormal opening – for example, when some of your intestines or stomach push through the muscular abdominal wall due to an injury or over-flexing of your abs.

A hiatal hernia is similar to that; it’s a hernia that occurs when part of your stomach bulges through the diaphragm, which is a large muscle that separates your abdomen and chest. Normally, your diaphragm has a small natural opening called the hiatus. 

It’s through this hole that food passes from your esophagus to your stomach. It is often the result of an increase in pressure in the abdominal cavity, which is the space in the middle of your body that holds your stomach, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, spleen, intestines, kidneys, and bladder

When you suffer a hiatal hernia, your stomach pushes through the opening and enters the chest cavity.

Symptoms of Hiatal Hernias

Normally, small hiatal hernias don’t cause many problems, and some people get these without even knowing it. But large hernias can cause food and stomach acid to back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn and tissue damage. If the hernia is large enough, it may need surgery to treat.

Significant hiatal hernias can often induce symptoms like:

  • Heartburn
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Abdominal or chest pain
  • Regurgitation for vomiting of either food or blood/black stools (which can indicate bigger issues, like gastrointestinal bleeding)

If you suspect you have a massive hiatal hernia, you should contact your doctor or a medical professional right away.

Causes of Hiatal Hernias

A hiatal hernia can occur for a number of reasons – the only major conditional factor is weakened muscle tissue in the hiatus. 

Your hiatus muscle might weaken due to:

  • Age: the muscle naturally weakens as you get older.
  • Injuries: which can weaken the muscle unnaturally.
  • Genetic factors: such as being born with a larger than normal hiatus.
  • Persistent pressure on the muscles surrounding the hiatus, such as straining too often during bowel movements or straining the wrong muscles during an exercise like a big lift.

Because of these risk factors, hiatal hernias are more common in overly obese people, individuals over the age of 50, and exercisers who do not practice proper form when lifting heavy weights.

Remedies for Hiatal Hernias

While a doctor will be necessary to treat a hiatal hernia that has gone on for too long or that is very large, minor to moderately-sized hernias can be treated at home through a few smart remedies, lifestyle changes or therapeutic techniques.

Drink 12-16 oz of Water and Use a Rebounder for a Few Minutes

One creative method to try involves weighing down your stomach to try and physically pull any stomach tissue down through the hiatus to take care of the hernia yourself.

Called “rebounding”, this treatment is also very useful for general upper G.I. symptoms, like regular heartburn or acid reflux.

Here’s the basic process:

  • Drink between 12 and 16 ounces of water (essentially a full glass).
  • When you fill your stomach with water, it becomes temporarily weighed down.
  • Try to drink the water on an empty stomach or first thing in the morning.
  • After drinking a glass of water, bounce up and down between 15 and 20 times. If you have a trampoline, jump on it for even better results!
  • By bouncing like this, your stomach full of water will drag down and may pull its tissue back through the hiatus, relieving the hernia.
  • Wondering whether it worked? If you feel like burping, the treatment probably helped at least to some extent.

Note that this treatment is only effective for small hernias that aren’t in danger of damaging the diaphragm or the hiatus.

Make Some Nutritional Changes

You can also make some healthy nutritional changes to make it less likely for your tissue to inflame and push up through the hiatus in the first place.

For example, remove extra sugar from your nutrition and clean up your meat products. Try to prioritize grass-fed, organic, and free-range meat products like beef and chicken to lower the likelihood of hormones or other processed ingredients irritating your stomach and your hiatus; this can make a hiatal hernia more likely.

It’s also highly recommended to maintain a healthy weight by eating smaller meals and reducing your intake of beverages like alcohol or caffeine, as well as chocolate or fatty foods which can induce heartburn. Try to avoid smoking if possible as well. 

Take Probiotics and Vitamins

You’ll also want to target probiotics. Probiotics are helpful supplements or foods like yogurt that add to the gut microbiome: the collection of healthy bacteria in your gut that protects your intestines and helps your digestive system break down food for energy and nutrients.

You can also try certain supplements that have plenty of omega fatty acids and turmeric. Omega fatty acids and turmeric can work together to reduce inflammation in deeper bodily tissues like the esophagus, diaphragm, and hiatus.

Surgery, A Last Resort

In the event a hernia is large enough, surgery may be required. Even so, surgery may also be needed for people who aren’t relieved by over-the-counter or prescription medications to help with heartburn and acid reflux or have complications such as inflammation or narrowing of the esophagus. 

Before doing so, your doctor will take a chest x-ray with a barium swallow or an upper endoscopy, with a camera on the end, to examine your esophagus, stomach, and the beginning of your small intestine (duodenum). 

Surgery for repairing a hernia consists of pulling it back into the abdomen and improving the valve at the bottom of the esophagus. If surgery is required, the surgeon inserts a laparoscope after incisions are made into your belly. This laparoscopic repair procedure is called the nissen fundoplication. Your surgeon will wrap the upper part of your stomach (the fundus) around the lower section of the esophagus.

Summary

All in all, hiatal hernias are always unpleasant to deal with. But you don’t necessarily have to pay for expensive medication or take a trip to your doctor to relieve the irritation and heartburn. Try out the methods above and don’t hesitate to read about overall wellness tips with Dr. Livingood today!

Sources

The management of hiatal hernia: an update on diagnosis and treatment | NCBI

Hiatal Hernia and the Treatment of Acid-Related Disorders | NCBI

Hiatal Hernia – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf | NCBI

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