A hernia is a universal name for a tissue or an organ pushing through an opening in the supporting organ around it. The organ and the area where a push-through occurs will determine the type of hernia it will be. Hiatal hernias occur at the upper portion of the stomach, pushing up through the diaphragm. It is one of the causes of gastric or acid reflux. When the push-through organ is in the intestine and the area is around the groyne or abdomen, it is another hernia entirely.
Hiatal hernia is when a tiny part of the stomach protrudes through a hole or an opening in the diaphragm. The hole is known as hiatus, a regular anatomical hole that permits the oesophagus to associate with the stomach. What brings about a hiatal hernia is unknown, though weak supportive tissues and elevated abdominal pressure can add to the condition. The hiatal hernia can play a significant role in burgeoning acid reflux and a chronic form of acid reflux known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Acid reflux, however, is caused by the hiatal hernia – a stomach abnormality. It occurs when the upper part of the stomach and lower oesophagal sphincter (L.E.S.) shift above the diaphragm (a muscle that stands between the stomach and the chest). Usually, the diaphragm assists in keeping acid in our gut. However, if a hiatal hernia is present, it will cause the acid to move up into the oesophagus and give rise to symptoms of acid reflux disease.
During the fed state, the food we eat travels down the oesophagus and then passes through a small opening or hole (hiatus) in the diaphragm before its final entry into the stomach. Though the food can go back into the oesophagus, many biochemical mechanisms will deflect acid from reversing (refluxing) into the oesophagus. The lower oesophagal sphincter (LES) will then open to let the food enter, close and keep the digestive foods and acids in the stomach. However, when the opening in the diaphragm becomes weaker, the stomach and the LES may not be held by the diaphragm anymore, and a piece of the stomach pushes through the hiatus. A hiatal hernia then happens when the top of the stomach either slides or rolls up into this hole and gets stuck there.
Since the LES cannot close properly, the stomach acid or food refluxes back into the oesophagus, and the person can experience inflammation, oesophagal spasms, heartburn, or occasionally ulcers. The “great mimic” is linked to hiatal hernia because it imitates many disorders. For example, a person with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) may experience intense chest pains and think they are in stomach aches that feel like an ulcer or cardiac arrest. Since hiatal hernia causes a burning sensation, many believe their stomach produces too much hydrochloric acid and run for heartburn medication such as Tums.
Speak to a doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of acid reflux or hiatal hernia.