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Hiatal hernia


Hiatal hernia is a condition in which part of the stomach extends through an opening the diaphragm into the chest. The diaphragm is the sheet of muscle that divides the chest from the abdomen.

Alternative Names

Hernia - hiatal


The exact cause of hiatal hernias is unknown. The condition may be due to a weakening of the supporting tissue. Your risk for the problem goes up with age, obesity, and smoking. Hiatal hernias are very common. The problem occurs often in people over 50 years old.

This condition may cause reflux (backflow) of gastric acid from the stomach into the esophagus.

Children with this condition are usually born with it (congenital). It often occurs with gastroesophageal reflux in infants.


  • Chest pain
  • Heartburn, worse when bending over or lying down
  • Swallowing difficulty

A hiatal hernia by itself rarely causes symptoms. Pain and discomfort are due to the upward flow of stomach acid, air, or bile.

Exams and Tests

  • Barium swallow x-ray
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)


The goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms and prevent complications. Treatments may include:

Other measures to reduce symptoms include:

  • Avoiding large or heavy meals
  • Not lying down or bending over right after a meal
  • Reducing weight and not smoking
  • Raising the head of the bed 4 to 6 inches

If medicines and lifestyle measures do not help control symptoms, you may need surgery.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Treatment can relieve most symptoms of hiatal hernia.

Possible Complications

  • Pulmonary (lung) aspiration
  • Slow bleeding and iron deficiency anemia (due to a large hernia)
  • Strangulation (closing off) of the hernia

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have symptoms of a hiatal hernia.
  • You have a hiatal hernia and your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment.
  • You develop new symptoms.


Controlling risk factors such as obesity may help prevent hiatal hernia.



Richter JE, Friedenberg FK. Gastroesophageal reflux disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 43.

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