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Hiatal Hernia - Topic Overview

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If you have been told that you have a hiatal hernia, this topic will give you some basic information about it. A hiatal hernia sometimes happens along with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). And the symptoms of a hiatal hernia are usually caused by GERD. For more information about the symptoms of GERD and how to treat it, see the topic Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

What is a hiatal hernia?

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A hiatal hernia (say "hi-AY-tul HER-nee-uh") happens when part of your stomach bulges up through the diaphragm and into your chest. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that separates your belly (abdomen) from your chest.

The hernia bulges through the diaphragm at a place called the hiatus. This is the opening in the diaphragm that the esophagus camera.gif passes through. The esophagus is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach.

There are three main types of hiatal hernia: sliding, paraesophageal, and mixed. Most people who have a hiatal hernia have a sliding hiatal hernia camera.gif.

What causes a hiatal hernia?

A hiatal hernia often is caused by weak muscles and tissue within and around the hiatus.

In a sliding hiatal hernia, a small part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm and into the chest. A valve between the esophagus and the stomach also moves up and away from the diaphragm.

What are the symptoms?

Most people who have a hiatal hernia have no symptoms.

One symptom you may have is heartburn, which is an uncomfortable feeling of burning, warmth, or pain behind the breastbone. It is common to have heartburn at night when you are trying to sleep.

If you often have symptoms or they are severe, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A hiatal hernia can lead to GERD, and people often have both conditions at the same time.

If you have pain behind your breastbone, it is important to make sure it is not caused by a problem with your heart. The burning sensation caused by GERD usually occurs after you eat. Pain from the heart usually feels like pressure, heaviness, weight, tightness, squeezing, discomfort, or a dull ache. It occurs most often after you are active.

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