Answering Important Questions About Hiatus Hernias
If you are reading this right now you are probably thinking wow, another story about hiatus hernias. I understand why many of you might feel that way since, hiatus hernias are extremely common. So common that 50% of us suffer from the illness. Just google the words hiatus hernias and you will be flooded with tons of information about the condition. So why did I decide to write about this subject?
Writing about this topic is important to me because there is a lot of confusing information out there about this affliction. For instance, one article might state that the disorder is harmless and may only cause some acid reflux. On the other hand, you might read another article that suggest that these types of hernias can be fatal. Some articles might state that surgery is needed in order to correct the problem. While others say, that surgery will only cause more problems. In addition to these reasons, I have found that every individual has had a different experience with hiatus hernias. Some of us have symptoms that are not widely reported on the web or to doctors, for that matter. Therefore, I decided to share my experience living with a hiatus hernia as well as, attempt to answer some of the confusing questions about the condition.
What is a Hiatus Hernia?
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. There are two main types of hiatal hernias: sliding and paraesophageal (next to the esophagus) (1).
My Life with a Hiatus Hernia
About two years ago I started to develop some disturbing symptoms. These symptoms included, chest pain, stomach cramping and a chronic cough. Soon after, I developed pain in my left shoulder. Of course, these symptoms caused me to panic. I remember rushing to the hospital fearing that I was having a heart attack. The doctors ran all of the necessary test and determined that my heart was fine. They assured me that at 31, I was not having a heart attack. They prescribed antibiotics and diagnosed me with bronchitis.This eased my fears temporarily however, the symptoms soon returned.
I ran back in forth to the ER probable about a dozen times throughout the year. Every time, I was told that there was nothing wrong with me and that I was simply having anxiety attacks. I accepted what the doctors said but never quite believed them. Then my doctor prescribed medication to treat acid reflux disease. The medication helped some what nevertheless, it did not completely relieve my symptoms. I was miserable, afraid and confused.
Eventually I was referred to a stomach specialist. He suggested that I receive an upper endoscopy. Finally, after two years of being dismissed by doctors, taking ineffective medication and thinking that I had a mental health disorder, I was diagnosed with a hiatus hernia. I felt vindicated, I thought finally, I have a diagnoses, now my questions will be answered and I will receive the treatment that I desperately need. To my surprise, I received very little answers about my condition and was just prescribed more pills. So I decided to do my own research to find out more about hiatus hernias and the symptoms that are associated with them.
Most Common Type of Hiatus Hernia, Sliding hiatal hernias
Sliding hiatal hernias are those in which the gastro-esophageal junction and part of the stomach slides into the chest. This junction can stay permanently in the chest, or just slide into the chest during swallowing. The later results because with each swallow, the esophagus contracts, causing the esophagus to shorten and pull on the stomach. After the swallow, the junction falls back into the abdomen. Approximately 90% of all hiatal hernias are the sliding type (9).
Symptoms of Hiatus Hernias
Fortunately for most, hiatus hernia's do not have any symptoms. In fact, most people who have these types of hernias are not even aware of it. Nonetheless, those who are experiencing symptoms know that they can be frighting and debilitating. Here is a list of common symptoms associated with hiatus hernia's.
- Acid Reflux
- Chest Pain
- Abdominal Cramping
- Sore Throat
Less Common Type of Hiatus, Para-Esophageal Hernias
With para-esophageal hernias, the gastro-esophageal junction remains where it belongs, but part of the stomach is squeezed up into the chest beside the esophagus. These hernias remain in the chest at all times. With this type of hernia, complications can occur, such as incarceration and strangulation. Incarceration means the hernia is stuck and being squeezed. Strangulation results from the lack of blood supply, leading to death of the tissues involved, when incarceration persists too long. Surgical intervention is required (9).
More Severe Symptoms of a Hiatus Hernia
Many of us experience the above symptoms in our every day lives. Usually if we do, we pop a pill and continue on with our day. Unfortunately, for some of us it is not that simple. Our symptoms can be more severe and over the counter medications just wont cut it. Here are some of the more severe symptoms of a hiatus hernia.
More Severe Symptoms
- Severe chest pain
- Chest Pressure
- Shortness of breath
Hiatus Hernias and Headaches
Quite often, people don’t realise that there are noxious gases which are produces as a by product of indigestion. If you find that these vapours make their way in to your blood stream and eventually rise to your head, you can get a headache or migraine from them. (3)
The Great Mimic
Hiatal hernia has often been called the "great mimic" because its symptoms can resemble many disorders. For example, a person with this problem can experience dull pains in the chest, shortness of breath (caused by the hernia's effect on the diaphragm), heart palpitations (due to irritation of the vagus nerve), and swallowed food "balling up" and causing discomfort in lower esophagus until it passes on to stomach. (2)
Frighting Symptoms of a Hiatus Hernia
Some of the more severe symptoms of hiatus hernias are alarming because there is very little information out there about them. In fact, if you tell your doctor that you are experiencing these symptoms they may tell you that it has nothing to do with your hernia. More over, if you research hiatus hernias on the web, many of the popular websites will not provide these symptoms for hiatus hernias. Nevertheless, if you read through message boards on various websites you will see that there are tons of people who experience symptoms such as, headaches as a result of their hiatus hernia.
"I just searched google for hiatus hernia and fatigue, and I'm here. Whatever doctors say, when I eat the wrong food, besides the chest pain and nausea, I also get extreme fatigue. Yes, it's a result of the hiatus hernia. I even have headaches. For the protocol, I'm 31" (4).
In fact, some peoples symptoms are so bad that they resemble a heart attack. Therefore, hiatus hernias have been given the nickname the great mimic because its symptoms are similar to many other conditions.
"I also have your symptoms too, the weird feelings, dizzy, fatigue during shortness of breath and the pain between my shoulder blades. The DR. says an HH does not cause shortness of breath, I disagree. Dr's have been no help in my case, I will be seeing a chiropractor, I have more faith in them. All we can do is just keep seeking help and answers. God help us" (5).
There is no doubt that the symptoms of a hiatus hernia can be extremely frightening, so much so, that they can trigger anxiety attacks which can lead to even more symptoms. However, most of the time there is no no reason to panic. It is not usually related to a cardiac issue and the symptoms will pass. Nevertheless, in some extreme cases hiatus hernias can be dangerous. In these cases, sufferers should seek medical help immediately.
What is a Strangulated Hiatus Hernia
Strangulation means that the blood flow to a portion of the stomach has been cut off, and may cause death of tissues if not taken care of immediately. To repair a strangulate Hiatal hernia, a surgeon will move the stomach back down to the proper location and stitch the hiatus closed around the esophagus. Unfortunately, a great number of people experience further or worsened problems after this surgery due to internal scarring. (6)
Strangulated Hiatus Hernias
Strangulated hiatus hernias can be life threatening and require medical care immediately. Some of the most common signs of a strangulated hernia is, fever, severe chest pain, vomiting and difficulty swallowing. Blood in stool or vomiting blood could also indicate that you have a strangulated hernia. Additional symptoms of a strangulated hernia is, excessive belching and stomach pain. This kind of hernia requires surgery right away or they can be fatal. So now that we have identified different types of hiatus hernias, what are the best treatment options for this condition?
How much do you know about hiatus hernias?
What symptom of a hiatus hernia can also occur in lung cancer patients?
Additional Facts about the Treament of Hiatus Hernias
Long-term use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), the class of drugs including omeprazole, may interfere with the absorption of calcium and possibly, vitamin B12. The risk of hip fractures may be increased with long-term use of PPIs. Also, a form of gastritis (an inflammation of the stomach tissue) may be increased in certain people with long-term use of PPIs. Your healthcare provider is best able to evaluate the risk of long-term PPI use based on your specific circumstances. (7)
Treatment for hiatus hernias
Doctors do not usually treat a hiatus hernia itself. Instead, they treat the symptoms associated with the condition such as, acid reflux. Acid reflux disease is treated with medications, like Zantac and Prilosec. Picid can be used to treat the condition, as well. Unfortunately there are many of us who are unresponsive to these treatments. In these cases, patients might require surgery. However, before you have surgery you need to understand that there can be some unpleasant side effects. These side effects might include, painful swallowing, difficulty vomiting, infections or bleeding, internal organ damage and Pneumothorax. (8)
Before relying completely on this hub remember that I am by no means a doctor. I am just a person who has gained experience through extensive research and by living with this disorder everyday. If you think that you might have a hiatus hernia schedule a doctors appointment asap. It is very important that you do this because as I stated earlier, hiatus hernias can resemble other more serious conditions. So it is vital that you rule out these medical emergencies and not self diagnose.
4.Varna, Bulgaria, Svetoslav Batsoev, Jan 20, 2012http://www.topix.com/forum/health/hiatal-hernia/TPO6PI4AISHGJII75/p4).
5.Jamie,United States (Varna, Bulgaria, Svetoslav Batsoev, Jan 20, 2012http://www.topix.com/forum/health/hiatal-hernia/TPO6PI4AISHGJII75/p4).
6.http://blog.refluxremedy.com/2028/strangulated-hiatal-hernia/ September 16, 2011