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Hiatal Hernias – facts and resources

I decided to research hiatal hernias today.  I had no idea what one was. Just in case you are curious, here are some basic Hiatal Hernia facts:

Any time an internal body part pushes into an area where it doesn’t belong, it’s called a hernia.

The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm — the muscular wall separating the chest cavity from the abdomen. Normally, the esophagus (food pipe) goes through the hiatus and attaches to the stomach. In a hiatal hernia (also called hiatus hernia) the stomach bulges up into the chest through that opening. Essentially, a portion of the stomach protrudes upward into the chest.

There are two main types of hiatal hernias: sliding and paraesophageal (next to the esophagus):

  • In a sliding hiatal hernia, the stomach and the section of the esophagus that joins the stomach slide up into the chest through the hiatus. This is the more common type of hernia.
  • The paraesophageal hernia is less common, but is more cause for concern.
    • The esophagus and stomach stay in their normal locations, but part of the stomach squeezes through the hiatus, landing it next to the esophagus.
    • Although you can have this type of hernia without any symptoms, the danger is that the stomach can become “strangled,” or have its blood supply shut off.

All kinds of people are at risk for developing hiatal hernias.

Below is a list of risk factors:

  • Increased pressure within the abdomen caused by:
  • Heavy lifting or bending over
  • Frequent or hard coughing
  • Hard sneezing
  • Pregnancy and delivery
  • Violent vomiting
  • Straining with constipation
  • Obesity (extra weight pushes down on the abdomen increasing the pressure)
  • Unnatural position for defecation
  • Heredity
  • Smoking
  • Drug use, such as cocaine
  • Stress
  • Diaphragm weakness

There is not really any pills or drugs to take for a hiatal hernia.  Time, rest, eating right and lifestyle are keys to overcoming hiatal hernias. This website lists off some good home remedies and treatments for hiatal hernias:

A hiatal hernia is a condition you may have to live with for many years, so it is best to be organised and to be consistent with your treatment from early on.

Pain management
The pain of hernias can vary from being mild and occasional to being severe and intense all the time.  Depending on the gravity of your hiatal hernia, you may be required to take prescription medications to alleviate the symptoms.  These medications must be taken regularly and as prescribed.  If you miss a tablet, the burning can cause great discomfort.  So make sure that you always keep a couple of spare tablets with you, just in case.

Food
The prospect of living with a hiatal hernia can be daunting.  It can seem like the hernia is controlling you at times, and taking all the fun from life.  For example, there are many foods you will have to do without for a while.  Spicy food is definitely off the menu – at least until the hiatal hernia is under control.

Acidic food stuffs such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, chillies and other foods are proven to exacerbate the condition and increase the acid reflux.  You may need to do a bit of research into which foods will agree and disagree with you.

Alcohol
Keep wine and other alcoholic beverages to a bare minimum.  Over-indulging will irritate your hiatal hernia and the pain will not be worth it.  Alcohol can be very acidic and can worsen the heartburn.  Fizzy drinks should be avoided.  Carbonated drinks create a lot of gas which when expelled by belching, causes an acidic reflux into the oesophagus.

Smoking
Smoking is not good for anybody, but for people living with a hiatal hernia, the chances of health complications are greatly increased.  Smoking can aggravate the hernia to such a point, that it becomes ulcerated.

An ulcer is basically an open wound which can continue to enlarge, causing a great deal of problems and pain.  Internal bleeding is a very real threat with a stomach ulcer and some ulcers bleed so severely, that sufferers require a blood transfusion to save their lives.

Once a hiatal hernia is ulcerated, it is very difficult to treat and heal.  The heartburn is much more intense and long-lasting.  Smoking will hinder the recovery process and it is in your best interest to quit smoking.

Sleeping
Many hiatal hernia sufferers dread going to sleep at night because of the burning sensation when they lie horizontally.  You may find it much more comfortable to sleep propped up by pillows.  This allows the gastric juices to settle and allows the hiatal hernia a few hours to repair itself.  Doing this every night can make a big difference.

Antacids
Antacids are a hiatal hernia sufferer’s best friend.  They come in liquid form or tablets/lozenges and are available from many shops.  They are an indispensable quick-fix treatment and eases the heartburn fairly rapidly.  Keep a few packets around the house, the office, the car, jackets etc… for when you need quick relief from the pain.


Finding alternatives

It’s important to be realistic about your condition and keep your hiatal hernia under control.  This does not mean that you should live a limited life.  Finding practical alternatives to the foods you can no longer eat is one the best way to treat a hiatal hernia.  Write a list of everything you can eat and keep it handy, make a copy and keep it in your bag or car.  It will be useful when you are shopping for food.

Hiatal hernias are very common and can occur in anybody from a newborn infant to the elderly; and many people cope with it very well.

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