Hiatal hernias are a common condition seen most often in adults over the age of 50. Although the cause is unknown, a hiatal hernia may be the result of a weakening of the tissues supporting the digestive tract.
Food enters the body through the mouth and travels down the esophagus. The esophagus passes through the diaphragm and into the abdominal cavity via an opening in the diaphragm called the esophageal hiatus. The esophagus then connects with the stomach just below the diaphragm.
A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of the upper stomach slips up through the hiatus and into the chest. Symptoms may vary according to the size and position of the hernia, but they can include heartburn, chest pain, belching and difficulty swallowing.
Symptoms of a hiatal hernia can be relieved with weight reduction and with smoking cessation. It is also important to avoid eating large meals and to also avoid lying down after eating. Medications can be prescribed, and occasionally surgical repair of the hernia is required. Increasing age, obesity, and smoking are risk factors for development of hiatal hernias in adults.