Having a hiatal hernia can be a painful condition. They occur deep inside the body and cannot be seen from the outside like other hernias. A hiatal hernia happens when the upper stomach pushes up into your chest area through an esophageal hiatus. This is an opening in the diaphragm that is normally just for the esophagus to pass through. This area of the diaphragm can become weak and stretch to allow the stomach to pass through. Women are affected with hiatal hernias more than men and often as a result of pregnancy. Even though they can be painful, 50% of people affected with this condition have no symptoms at all. In general, hiatal hernias occur in around 60% of all adults by 60 years of age. Most hiatal hernias are observed without intervention with only severe cases requiring surgery.
If you have a very small hiatal hernia, you may not have any symptoms at all. If they are big enough to cause symptoms, you may feel:
- Frequent heartburn
- Acid reflux
- Upper abdominal pain
- Trouble swallowing
- Excessive belching
- Extreme fullness after eating
- Blood in vomit or stools
More severe symptoms of hiatal hernias (paraesophageal or fixed)
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal bleeding
- Blood loss or anemia
Any of the above symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor, especially if you are vomiting blood which could be a sign of a bleeding ulcer or something more serious. In cases of extreme abdominal pain, a person with a hiatal hernia may have stomach or abdominal organs that are turned and twisted. This also is a medical emergency.