A hiatal hernia occurs when the top part of your stomach bulges through your diaphragm, which is the large muscle separating your abdomen and chest, and up into your chest cavity. In some cases, it could be another organ that pushes through the diaphragm, such as the spleen or pancreas.
There are several different types of hiatus hernia. By far the most common is the sliding hiatus hernia which is most commonly associated with gastric reflux. This is where both the sphincter muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, and the top of the stomach protrude through the diaphragm. The second, which is known as a rolling hiatus hernia, is much rarer and involves the stomach or other organs pushing through. A rolling hernia is more likely to get stuck than a sliding one, which passes easily in and out of the chest cavity.
It’s not always known exactly what causes a hiatus hernia to form, although they are significantly more common in people over the age of 50. Many experts believe that this is because the diaphragm muscle weakens with age. Anything that increases pressure in the abdominal area could also increase the risk of developing a hiatus hernia, such as being obese or pregnant, regular coughing or regularly lifting heavy objects.
The trouble with a hiatus hernia is that, in many instances, it doesn’t cause any symptoms. In fact, many people live with a hiatal hernia for years without realizing it. However, if you have a sliding hernia, you may find that you do experience signs of acid reflux which are associated with this type of hernia. These include:
Heartburn, which feels like a burning sensation in the upper stomach, chest, and even back of the throat
Pain in the upper abdomen and chest
Acidic taste in the mouth
These symptoms can come and go or remain consistent. It’s also important to note that many people who have acid reflux do not have a hiatus hernia. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to get your symptoms checked out in case you do.
If you don’t have any symptoms of a hiatus hernia, you probably don’t need any treatment. However, if your hernia is affecting your lifestyle or your doctor believes that you are at risk of experiencing complications, you may be offered surgery to repair it.
Hiatus hernia surgery is usually performed laparoscopically when possible. This is a less invasive technique where several small incisions are made into the abdominal area through which tiny tools are passed. The tools are then used to push and secure the organs back into their regular position and tighten the weakened diaphragm muscle. The entire process usually takes less than two hours and is performed under general anesthetic, meaning that you will be asleep for the duration of the surgery.
Recovery from laparoscopic and robotic surgery is usually faster than it is for open surgery (a large incision down the middle of your belly). After laparoscopic or robotic repair, you can expect to have to stay in hospital for 1-2 days, and to have to take anywhere from 1-3 weeks off of work, depending on the nature of your job. Your surgeon, Dr. Thompson, will also give you specific instructions to follow before and immediately following your surgery.
For more information about hiatal hernias, please contact our knowledgeable surgical team at Clarity Surgical Weight Loss Solutions in Huntington Station, New York at (516) 259-2525 today.