A hernia occurs when body tissue bulges, or protrudes, through a weakness in other body tissue. Generally hernia refers to part of the intestine bulging through the muscular wall of the abdomen – but hernias are sometimes seen in other parts of the body. The most common type of hernia are inguinal hernias and umbilical hernias, which are frequently seen in newborn infants.
Most hernias are asymptomatic, but those hernia symptoms that produce heartburn and acid indigestion are associated with a hiatus hernia.
A hiatus hernia occurs when the stomach bulges through a weakness or hole in the diaphragm causing acid reflux that then results in heartburn or acid indigestion. Hiatus hernia symptoms are easy to identify -
- Pain – hiatus hernia does cause pain although it may be difficult to identify it as such.
- Increased burping and frequent bouts of hiccups, again, the generalised nature of these hernia symptoms makes it difficult to determine whether they are caused by a hiatus hernia, however, if other symptoms are also present it makes the diagnosis more likely.
- Stomach pain and bloating
- Coughing – a persistent cough with no apparent cause should always be examined in order to exclude any underlying medical condition and is frequently an indication of a stressed digestive system.
- Heartburn or acid indigestion – again, in combination with other symptoms this is a good indication of the presence of a hiatus hernia.
- Difficulty swallowing – especially with no apparent cause (such as tonsillitis or strep throat). This is a relatively rare hiatus hernia symptom but should always be investigated by your health care provider.
- Chest pain – this is an uncommon symptom of hiatus hernia but should always be treated as a medical emergency as it may well be indicative of something else entirely.
Causes of hiatus hernia
Hiatus hernias develop for many reasons and the cause may never be known, possible risk factors include -
- Constipation and associated straining during bowel movements
- Lack of exercise
- Genetic factors
- Eating certain foods
Whilst it may not be possible to identify what caused your hiatus hernia it is possible to treat it successfully with simple lifestyle changes. Avoiding the foods that trigger your symptoms, is obviously a good place to start. Making changes to diet is also relatively easy to do – eating a healthy, well balanced diet with a wide range of foods has many benefits to overall health and fitness. Improving levels of exercise will also provide many benefits – not just an improvement in the symptoms of hiatus hernia. Over the counter indigestion remedies are easy to obtain and will deal with the discomfort associated with heartburn and acid indigestion.
Hernia symptoms occurring elsewhere
When a hernia develops elsewhere in the abdominal wall it may feel almost as if something has given way, or snapped, there may be some short-lived pain and discomfort. A lump may appear some time later, which again produces no pain and may increase in sign with certain activities – such as coughing. The hernia may come and go as the herniated tissue slips back into place and back out again. The greatest risk from a hernia is if it becomes strangulated – this occurs when the blood supply is cut off to the hernia and should be treated as a medical emergency.
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