There are two types of hiatal hernias–sliding hernias and paraesophageal hernias. If you are prone to this type of hernia, it can be helpful to know what symptoms to look out for. Scroll to Step 1 to find out who is at risk and what are the symptoms of a hiatal hernia.
Recognizing the Symptoms of a Hiatal Hernia
Watch out for pyrosis ( heartburn ). The stomach is a very acidic (pH 2) environment because it has to mix and break down food while fighting off harmful bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately, the esophagus or food tract is not created acid-resistant. When a hernia causes the backflow of food from the stomach into the alimentary canal, a burning sensation in the alimentary canal occurs. The proximity of the alimentary canal to the heart makes people feel a burning sensation in the chest area near the heart; that’s why it’s called heartburn .
Watch out if you have trouble swallowing. The alimentary canal becomes filled with food from the stomach during pyrosis; therefore, food from the mouth cannot be swallowed and accommodated easily. If you suddenly find that you can’t swallow food or drink easily, call your doctor.
Be careful if you vomit food. Occasionally, the acidic contents of the stomach reach the upper part of the esophagus after major pyrosis and leave a bitter taste. This can be described as vomiting into the mouth and can be a sign that you have a sliding hernia .
Be aware that you may experience some of the same symptoms as someone with a sliding hernia . A paraesophageal hernia pushes itself into the hiatus while a portion of the stomach remains in its normal position, effectively acting like two people trying to pass through a narrow door simultaneously. This causes compression and causes more symptoms. Pyrosis, difficulty swallowing, and vomiting are common.
Be aware of any acute chest pain you may have. When the hernia and the normally positioned part of the stomach become too compressed, blood flow to the stomach becomes severely restricted. This leads to poor blood supply and the potential for death of part of the stomach. The low blood flow triggers acute, pressing and severe chest pain similar to a heart attack. These symptoms demand immediate medical attention and a doctor’s consultation is highly recommended.
Watch out if you always feel bloated. Patients with paraesophageal hernias feel full when they start eating because the stomach cannot empty the contents immediately. This can lead to a deficiency of essential nutrients because the stomach does not digest food properly.
Knowing Are You at Risk
Know the different types of hiatal hernias. There are two types of hiatal hernias – sliding and paraesophageal (which literally means next to the esophagus).
Sliding hiatal hernia is the most common type. This occurs when the stomach and part of the esophagus are joined and shifted to the chest through the hiatus.
You should be more alert and anxious if you have a paraesophageal hiatal hernia. In this case, the stomach and esophagus remain in place but part of the stomach pushes against the esophagus causing choking and, in the worst cases, poor blood circulation.
Consider age. People aged 60 years and over have a 60% chance of developing a paraesophageal hiatal hernia. Those aged 48 years and over are at risk of having a sliding hernia . As we age, muscles tend to lose elasticity, increasing the risk of hernias because the muscles are unable to hold the internal organs in their respective normal places.
Consider gender. Women are more prone to developing a hiatal hernia because of certain physical changes that occur in the body, especially if you gain a lot of weight during pregnancy. The developing fetus can actually cause the diaphragm to shift, resulting in a hiatal hernia.
Women are more at risk if the developing fetus is very heavy (3 kg heavier than normal is cause for concern) or if you develop gestational diabetes while pregnant.
Consider weight. People who are obese have more visceral fat (fat in the abdominal cavity that attaches to the organs of the digestive system). This increases the pressure within the abdominal cavity and can cause a hernia to occur.