A large muscle separates the belly and chest spaces. A small opening in the muscle lets the esophagus pass from the chest into the belly. There it connects to the stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach presses up into the chest through this hole.
Different types of hiatal hernias include:
Sliding hiatal hernia—Part of the stomach slides into and out of the chest cavity. This is the most common type.
Fixed hiatal hernia—Upper part of the stomach stays in the chest cavity.
Several other types may be seen. They are uncommon, but more serious. May need surgery.
The exact cause of hiatal hernias is not clear. Some people are born with a hiatal hernia. Others will develop it later in life.
An injury to this opening can allow a hiatal hernia to start. This can happen in a trauma like a car accident. Increased pressure in the belly can also put a lot of stress on the area. Over time the area may weaken and allow the stomach to move up.
Hiatal hernias are more common in adults over 50 years of age. Other factors that increase your chance of getting hiatal hernia include:
Acid reflux (GER & GERD) in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults. Accessed March 23, 2018.
Hiatus hernia. Merck Manual Professional Verson website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/esophageal-and-swallowing-disorders/hiatus-hernia. Updated October 2016. Accessed March 23, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 1/7/2019
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