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What Is a Hiatal Hernia?

You may know that a hernia is when part of an organ or tissue goes through an opening in the muscle where it doesn’t belong. But do you know what a hiatal hernia is?

Surgeon Scott Beman, MD, with LVPG General and Bariatric Surgery describes the part of your body that is affected. “The esophageal hiatus is an opening in the muscle that lies between the chest and the abdomen called the diaphragm. Only the esophagus should pass through the opening. A hiatal hernia occurs when the opening enlarges and stomach or other tissue from the abdomen pushes through into the chest,” he says.As the stomach moves upward, a valve between the esophagus and stomach may fail and acid can back up through the opening into the esophagus. “This may cause heartburn and other symptoms,” Beman says.

Meet Our Expert

Scott Beman, MD 
LVPG General and Bariatric Surgery

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Am I at risk?

Experts don’t know what causes hiatal hernias, and anyone can get them. But you may be at a greater risk if you:

  • Are over 50 years old
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Are pregnant
  • Smoke

How do I know if I have a hiatal hernia?

In many cases a hiatal hernia has no symptoms. But some people may experience:

  • Burping
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Vomiting
  • Backflow (reflux) of acid or stomach contents into the esophagus or throat
  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Chronic lung symptoms and asthma
  • Change in voice

“The symptoms of a hiatal hernia may look like other health problems,” Beman says. “That’s why it’s so important to always see your health care provider to be sure.”

To learn more, download our guide at LVHN.org/herniaguide.