First Time User? Enroll now.
Get Care Now
COVID-19: Vaccine information and additional resources | Medicaid: The program is changing and you must take steps to keep your UNC Health providers
Home > Health Library > Hiatal Hernia
A hiatal hernia (say "hi-AY-tul HER-nee-uh") happens when part of your stomach bulges up through the diaphragm and into your chest. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that separates your belly (abdomen) from your chest.
The hernia bulges through the diaphragm at a place called the hiatus. This is the opening in the diaphragm that the esophagus passes through. The esophagus is the tube that connects the throat to the stomach.
There are three main types of hiatal hernia: sliding, paraesophageal, and mixed. Most people who have a hiatal hernia have a sliding hiatal hernia.
A hiatal hernia often is caused by weak muscles and tissue within and around the hiatus.
In a sliding hiatal hernia, a small part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm and into the chest. A valve between the esophagus and the stomach also moves up and away from the diaphragm.
Most people who have a hiatal hernia have no symptoms.
One symptom you may have is heartburn, which is an uncomfortable feeling of burning, warmth, or pain behind the breastbone. It is common to have heartburn at night when you are trying to sleep.
If you often have symptoms or they are severe, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A hiatal hernia can lead to GERD, and people often have both conditions at the same time.
If you have pain behind your breastbone, it is important to make sure it is not caused by a problem with your heart. The burning sensation caused by GERD usually occurs after you eat. Pain from the heart usually feels like pressure, heaviness, weight, tightness, squeezing, discomfort, or a dull ache. It occurs most often after you are active.
A hiatal hernia often is diagnosed when you see your doctor or have tests for another health problem.
If you have symptoms, your doctor will ask you questions about them. If your symptoms happen often and are severe, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If this is the case, your doctor may do more tests or give you medicine for GERD.
If you have no symptoms, you don't need treatment.
If you have mild symptoms, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes and perhaps nonprescription medicines. Here are some things to try:
If you often have symptoms or have severe symptoms, you may have GERD. Lifestyle changes may help, and your doctor may prescribe medicine. In severe cases, surgery can be used to pull the hernia back into the belly.
Current as of:
June 6, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineArvydas D. Vanagunas MD - Gastroenterology
Current as of: June 6, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Arvydas D. Vanagunas MD - Gastroenterology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
2076 NC Highway 42 W.
Clayton, NC 27520