By Dr. Josh Axe
Different types of hernias develop inside different parts of the body, causing an abnormal bulging of one area into another. A hiatal hernia forms inside the diaphragm, the muscular area that lays between the chest and the lower abdomen. The prevalence rate of hiatal hernia is between 13-60 percent of all adults. This includes roughly half of those over the age of 50. However, many people with a hiatal hernia have no idea because they never experience noticeable symptoms.
The abdomen holds most of the most important organs of the digestive system. These include: the lower part of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, kidneys and bladder. When the abdomen experiences injury, lots of pressure, straining or inflammation, then any of these organs can dysfunction. Middle to older-aged women (over 50 years old) develop hiatal hernias more than any other group. The risk only goes up if the woman is overweight, obese, ill due to another disease or pregnant. (01)
If you’ve talked to your doctor about symptoms of heartburn, anemia, acid reflux or GERD, he or she might have recommended that you should be checked for a hiatal hernia. All of these conditions are related and develop due to similar causes. These causes include eating a poor diet, being overweight/obese, taking certain medications, or high levels of inflammation.
What Is a Hiatal Hernia?
A hiatal hernia is when a part of the stomach bulges into the chest through an opening called the hiatus. The hiatus is part of the digestive system that connects the stomach to the esophagus (also called the food pipe). (02) While a hiatal hernia sounds like a pretty painful condition, most people with one, don’t notice any symptoms.
When symptoms do occur, they include heartburn, acid reflux symptoms or developing a more severe digestive problem called gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD for short). Around 20 percent of all adults experience these symptoms on a regular basis, some almost daily.
While many people with hiatal hernia suffer from symptoms of heartburn/acid reflux, the hernia doesn’t seem to directly cause these conditions. Instead, whatever factors contribute to acid reflux (poor diet, inflammation, etc.) also contribute to hernias. Having a hiatal hernia isn’t a guarantee of developing acid reflux or GERD. However, some people have one condition without having the other, but research shows there is often overlap between the two.
Common Symptoms of a Hiatal Hernia
If someone does develop signs or symptoms of a hiatal hernia, usually they include chest pain, burning sensations and irritation of the throat. Other symptoms related to acid reflux, heartburn and GERD are also possible.
Symptoms associated with acid reflux include:
- Bitter taste in your mouth. Periodically, or, for some people, throughout the day — some people taste regurgitated food or sour liquid at the back of their mouths/throats
- Waking up feeling like you’re choking or coughing in the middle of the night
- Dry mouth
- Gum irritation, including tenderness and bleeding
- Bad breath
- Regurgitation of acidic foods
- Bloating after meals and during bouts of symptoms
More severe symptoms can include:
- Bloody vomiting (possible sign of damage in lining of esophagus) or black stools
- Belching, gassiness, burping and flatulence after meals
- Hiccups that are difficult to stop
- Difficulty swallowing (possible sign of narrowing esophagus)
- Unexpected weight loss
- Discomfort that worsens when bending over or laying down
- Hoarseness upon arising or throughout the day
- Chronic coughing or throat irritation
- Throat soreness and dryness
- In severe cases, GERD may lead to bleeding ulcers in the esophagus. It also can lead to a dangerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which can lead to esophageal cancer.
“Reprinted with permission from Dr. Josh Axe, who leads one the world’s largest natural health websites at www.DrAxe.com.”
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist. In 2008 he started Exodus Health Center with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine.