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What is a hiatal hernia?

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Quick Answer

A hiatal hernia is a condition in which a part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm through a small opening known as the hiatus, as stated by Mayo Clinic. This can potentially allow food and acid to leak back into the esophagus, causing heartburn.

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Full Answer

Hiatal hernias occur when the muscles surrounding the diaphragm become weakened, allowing the upper part of the stomach to pass through the opening, as confirmed by Mayo Clinic. Possible causes include injury to the area and persistent pressure that results from vomiting, coughing, straining during bowel movements or performing heavy lifting. It may also occur in people born with an abnormally large hiatus.

Most small hiatal hernias are asymptomatic, but a large hernia may cause belching, chest or abdominal pain, excessive fullness after meals, difficulty swallowing and heartburn, according to Mayo Clinic. Individuals should make an appointment with a doctor if they experience persistent symptoms. Medications such as H-2-receptor blockers, over-the-counter antacids or proton pump inhibitors may be used to neutralize stomach acid or reduce its production. Patients may also prevent and relieve symptoms by avoiding alcohol, eating small meals throughout the day and losing weight. In rare cases, surgery may be required to repair the hiatal hernia by pulling the stomach back through the diaphragm.

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