A hiatal hernia occurs when part of your stomach pushes upward through your diaphragm. Your diaphragm normally has a small opening (hiatus) through which your food tube (esophagus) passes on its way to connect to your stomach. The stomach can push up through this opening and cause a hiatal hernia.
In most cases, a small hiatal hernia doesn’t cause problems, and you may never know you have a hiatal hernia unless your doctor discovers it when checking for another condition.
But a large hiatal hernia can allow food and acid to back up into your esophagus, leading to heartburn. Self-care measures or medications can usually relieve these symptoms, although a very large hiatal hernia sometimes requires surgery.
Hiatal hernia could be caused by:
- Injury to the area
- Being born with an unusually large hiatus
- Persistent and intense pressure on the surrounding muscles, such as when coughing, vomiting or straining during a bowel movement, or while lifting heavy objects
Most small hiatal hernias cause no signs or symptoms. However, larger hiatal hernias can cause signs and symptoms such as:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Feeling especially full after meals
- Vomiting blood or passing black stools, which may indicate gastrointestinal bleeding
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs or symptoms that worry you.