According to the National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), roughly 5 million American experience an abdominal hernia annually. A hernia is an organ or tissue that protrudes from the abdominal cavity and is always under the skin. Hiatal hernias, a specific type of hernia, are common, especially in people over age 50. However, hiatal hernias can affect people of all ages and genders.
What is a hiatal hernia?
A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach bulges through an opening in the diaphragm, the muscle wall that separates the stomach from the chest. Normally, the stomach is entirely in the abdomen. But during a hiatal hernia, a portion of the stomach is pulled up into the chest above the diaphragm. When the stomach is pulled above the diaphragm a bit of the stomach is in the chest.
What can cause a hernia?
A combination of muscle weakness and straining, such as with heavy lifting, might contribute to the development of a hiatal hernia. Some people are born with weak abdominal muscles and may be more likely to get a hernia. Other potential causes of a hernia include anything that creates increased pressure in the abdomen. This includes:
Types of hernias - Hiatal hernias are only one of many types of hernias that can occur in the body. When the opening (hiatus) in the diaphragm is too large, part of the stomach can slip up into the chest cavity. This is called a hiatal hernia. The hiatal hernia can cause gastric acid to backflow from the stomach into the esophagus, causing the heartburn. Other types of hernias include:
Congenital diaphragmatic - "Congenital" means "born with." Congential diaphragmatic hernias are birth defects that require surgery. Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) is the absence of the diaphragm, or a hole in the diaphragm. This can occur on either the left or right side, but is most common on the left.
Incisional - Incisional hernias bulge through a scar. It happens when a weakness in the muscle of the abdomen allows the tissues of the abdomen to protrude through the muscle. An incisional hernia is typically small enough that only the peritoneum, or the lining of the abdominal cavity, pushes through. In severe cases, portions of organs may move through the hole in the muscle.
Inguinal - An inguinal hernia is a condition in which intra-abdominal fat or part of the small intestine, also called the small bowel, bulges through a weak area in the lower abdominal muscles. Inguinal hernias are the most commonly diagnosed types of hernia and are located in or around the groin area -the area between the abdomen and thigh.
Hiatal - Hiatal hernias are a small opening in the diaphragm that allows the upper part of the stomach to move up into the chest. It causes heartburn from the stomach acid that flows back up through the opening.
Umbilical - Umbilical hernias are located around the belly button. Umbilical hernias are most common in infants, but they can affect adults as well. To prevent complications, umbilical hernias that don't disappear by age 4 or those that appear during adulthood may need surgical repair.
Once a hernia has developed it will tend to enlarge and cause discomfort. If a loop of bowel gets caught in the hernia it may become obstructed or its blood supply may be cut off. This could then become a life-threatening situation. Since hernias can be repaired effectively and with minimal risk, it's important that you can know and recognize the medical symptoms of hiatal hernia when they occur. Continue reading our section on Symptoms of Hiatal Hernia for more information.
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