Though many people never know they have one due to lack of symptoms, a hiatal hernia can cause complications which can affect your daily life. Knowing the signs and symptoms of this condition can help you spot its presence, alert your gastroenterologist, and get the treatment you need.
What is a hiatal hernia?
Your chest and abdomen are separated by a large muscle called the diaphragm. The esophagus passes through a small opening in the diaphragm and brings food from the mouth, down the throat, and into the stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach pushes through the hole and begins bulging out of the other side, into the chest. Though small hiatal hernias are often nothing to worry about and do not produce symptoms, larger hernias may cause potentially serious complications.
Do I have a hiatal hernia?
A small hernia often does not produce any symptoms at all. However, larger hernias can cause some issues that can affect your day-to-day life:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Regurgitation of foods (into the mouth)
- Acid reflux
- Vomiting blood or passing black stool
- Shortness of breath
If you think you have a hiatal hernia, you should see your doctor to ensure that you receive the care you need.
How does a gastroenterologist diagnose a hiatal hernia?
It is not uncommon for a gastroenterologist to find a hernia while investigating the cause of heartburn, abdominal pain, or other symptoms. Some diagnostic tools they may use include x-rays or upper endoscopy. They will also gather your medical, family, and lifestyle history to further investigate the cause of your symptoms.
Hiatal Hernia Treatments
If a person with a hernia does not experience any symptoms or complications, they may not need any treatment at all. However, if the patient begins experiencing discomfort, their doctor will probably suggest beginning treatment for their condition. Medications, such as antacids or medication to reduce the body’s acid production, can help with symptoms of a hernia. In more severe cases, a surgical procedure to repair a hernia or make the hole in the diaphragm smaller may become necessary.
Your gastroenterologist can help you find the best treatment plan for you. If you think you have a hernia or are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms such as recurrent acid reflux or heartburn, you should speak with your doctor.