A hernia of any kind can leave a patient in excruciating pain when his or her internal organs begin to push through a layer of muscle. This is especially true in the case of a hiatal hernia, which occurs when the stomach begins to push through the opening in the diaphragm where the esophagus passes through. Although, in some cases, there are no noticeable symptoms.
Those who suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) with a hiatal hernia often experience an increase in uncomfortable reflux including symptoms such as: heartburn, belching, and chest pain. Because the diaphragm is strongly associated with breathing and lung capacity, normal bodily functions like breathing, coughing or sneezing can trigger episodes of reflux pain.
Usually the opening in the diaphragm through which the esophagus passes is covered by a membrane known as the phrenoesophageal membrane, that keeps the stomach from pushing through. In some people, this membrane can become weak or damaged, allowing the stomach to herniate upward through the space. This weakening can occur as a result of pressure in the abdomen, low muscle tone, chronic vomiting, strain related to constipation or even as a normal part of the aging process. For minor cases that do not cause any problems, treatment is unnecessary. For more severe cases, however, treatments including medication and reparative surgery may be recommended.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from symptoms of acid reflux exacerbated by a hiatal hernia, make an appointment to discuss your options with a board-certified gastroenterologist. Your doctor will be able to diagnose a hernia and determine the best course of action to relieve your discomfort.