A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach is able to push up through the diaphragm. Hiatal hernias don’t always cause pain, and small ones may even go completely unnoticed. However, a large opening can lead to serious heartburn and potentially fatal complications. If you have been told that you have a hiatal hernia, you will want to know as much information about this condition as possible.
Symptoms of a Large Hiatal Hernia
A large hernia can cause serious heartburn along with regular belching. People suffering from this condition may have trouble swallowing and experience chronic fatigue. Chest pain with a hiatal hernia can be severe at times, and regular heartburn can be a fact of life.
A general feeling of chest pressure is a common symptom, as well as hiccups. The burning of acid reflux is typically more severe when the patients bend over or are lying down. Raising the head of the bed can help ease this problem. It is important to note that constant pain and incessant belching are symptoms of a strangulated hernia, a potentially fatal condition.
Anatomy of a Hiatal Hernia
The diaphragm is a large muscle situated between the chest cavity and abdomen. The esophagus moves from the chest cavity into the stomach through an opening in the diaphragm referred to as the hiatus. If the muscle around this opening weakens, the upper stomach can start to bulge through the hiatus into the chest cavity. Reflux is a common result, as well as some pain and general discomfort.
Genetics may play a role, as some people are simply born with a hiatus that is larger than normal. Infants with this type of hernia will typically have gastroesophageal reflux. A more common cause of this hernia is an injury to the area, such as sudden and intense strike to the abdomen. Persistent coughing or constant pressure on the diaphragm can strain the muscles and lead to a hernia. A hiatal hernia may also be brought on by using poor lifting techniques, lifting heavy weights, wearing tight clothing and having chronic poor posture. The primary risk factors include being overweight, smoking and being over the age of fifty. Prevention steps start with eliminating bad habits like smoking and taking steps to lose weight.
When to Seek Help
It’s important to seek medical attention if you suspect the presence of a hernia. You should start with a general practitioner or family doctor, although they will probably refer you to a gastroenterologist who specializes in digestive diseases. Knowing exactly what is going on will help you pursue the right treatments. It is also important to rule out other diseases that may be more serious.
Diagnosing the Hernia
Diagnosis is usually done through an x-ray of the upper digestive tract, or the doctor may use a scope to view the digestive tract. The procedures are minimally invasive and will allow the doctor to make a diagnosis relatively quickly.
Treating the Symptoms
Many people choose to simply treat the symptoms of the hernia. Antacids will neutralize stomach acid. There are medications to reduce the production of stomach acids or block acid production completely. Medications are also available that will strengthen the muscle of the esophagus that prevents acid from moving up into the esophagus. While these treatments may help with the symptoms, they are not long-term solutions. In fact, prolonged use of these remedies can lead to a new set of problems.
The Problem with Antacids
The Mayo Clinic reports that antacids are not meant to be a long-term solution to a problem such as a hiatal hernia. They are meant to be used only as a short-term treatment. Prolonged use will generally impact your bowel functions. Antacids containing magnesium hydroxide will cause diarrhea, and choosing one with calcium carbonate can cause constipation and even kidney damage. Over time, maintaining high levels of calcium in the body can cause your body’s acid-base balance to turn alkaline. The use of antacids containing aluminum has been linked to weakening bones and skeletal problems.
H-2 Receptor Blockers Carry Risks
The medications that will reduce the production of stomach acids include choices like Zantac, Pepcid and Tagemet. While these prescription medications are commonly issued by doctors on a long-term basis, they are not without risks. The presence of these medications in the body can interfere with some labwork. Regular use of them may cause drowsiness, blurred vision or dizziness. Other potential side effects include diarrhea, nausea, headache and upset stomach. Another problem with using these medications is the ongoing cost associated with getting the medications filled every month.
Studies are also indicating that the prolonged use of such medications may increase the risk of developing pneumonia and may interfere with the absorption of calcium, leading to weaker bones. The studies are not definitive or conclusive, but they certainly raise interesting questions about the wisdom of drastically reducing stomach acid production for long periods of time.
The last resort for treating a hiatal hernia, surgery is reserved for emergency situations and people who do not find relief with medication. The operation involves pulling the stomach back into the abdominal cavity to make the hole in the diaphragm smaller. The surgery can be performed through either the chest wall or the abdominal cavity. Surgery carries its own set of risks, which is why the medical community uses it only as a last resort.
Leaving a troublesome hiatal hernia to resolve itself can lead to serious complications. Pulmonary aspiration occurs when materials from the stomach move into the esophagus and are then inhaled. The consequences of aspiration can range from a moment of discomfort to death from asphyxiation. Pneumonia is a serious concern, particularly for people who are in poor health.
A key component of red blood cells, iron is necessary for survival. Symptoms include a general feeling of agitation or irritation and an overall feeling of weakness. Patients will often have headaches and may have difficult thinking clearly. Over time, the whites of the eyes may take on a blue color and the nails may become brittle. A sore tongue and pale skin color are consistent with an iron deficiency. Research has shown a connection between iron deficiency anemia and the presence of a large hiatal hernia.
Strangulation of the Hernia
Any hernia is at risk of strangulation. This happens when part of the stomach becomes trapped in the hernia, causing the blood supply to be cut off. This is a life threatening condition that must be treated promptly.
Symptoms of this problem are similar to those of cardiac arrest. Patients may have trouble swallowing, intense chest or stomach pain, vomiting, chills, bloating, tenderness around the diaphragm and fever. Excessive belching that does not provide any relief is also a symptom.
If you have hiatal hernia and are concerned that it may be strangulated, take a moment to feel the hernia. If the blood supply has been cut off, it will be hard, swollen, tender, painful or protruding more than normal. If you cannot normally feel the hernia outside your body, but you are suddenly feeling pain and tenderness in the upper abdomen or chest, you may have a strangulated hernia.
The pain associated with this condition is continuous and will increase over time. If you suddenly start experiencing severe, constant pain in the general of your hernia, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Seeking Emergency Treatment
Many people live with hernias on a regular basis. However, it is important to understand what symptoms should prompt a visit to the hospital. People in poor health, who have heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or blood pressure, are older than 55 years old or are active smokers should be especially aware of certain warning signs.
If you are vomiting blood or experiencing stools that are dark and tarry, you should make a trip to the emergency room. Feeling faint or experiencing palpitations are also a cause for concern. The presence of fever or inability to swallow liquids or food should also prompt a visit to the medical professionals.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies
The best treatments are ones where the body is allowed to heal itself. There are ways to avoid the pain of the hiatal hernia, without resorting to medications and surgery.
• Eat smaller meals. This allows the body to naturally process the food without creating so much acid that you spend the evening suffering.
• Avoid heartburn triggers. Known triggers include foods containing citrus or tomato products, onions, heavy spices and even chocolate.
• Alcohol should be avoided at all times.
• Those who are overweight should try to lose weight.
• Smokers should quit the habit.
• Elevating the head of your bed six inches can also provide relief.
• Poor posture contributes the problem, so it’s important to sit up straight and stand tall.
• Choosing activities that require standing after a meal will aid in digestion and help prevent the pain of reflux.
Alternative medicine practitioners have had success at manually pushing the stomach back into the proper position. They use their hands to carefully apply pressure on the abdomen as they manipulate the stomach back into its proper position.
Hiatal hernias do not have to ruin your quality of life. There are options that do not involve the use of medications or surgery. Caring for the condition properly and taking steps to prevent it from growing worse are necessary for continued health. You can enjoy a long-term treatment that will address the actual problem, not just mask the uncomfortable symptoms.
For more information on causes and cures for haital hernia pain, be sure to visit Reflux Remedy at www.refluxremedy.com today.