A hiatal hernia occurs when a section of the stomach moves above the diaphragm into the chest cavity through the hiatus. The hiatus is the small opening in the diaphragm where the esophagus travels to the stomach. The diaphragm is the layer of muscle separating the chest and abdominal cavities. The exact cause of a hiatal hernia remains unknown, but MedlinePlus lists obesity, smoking and advanced age as risk factors for the condition. Minor hiatal hernias do not always show symptoms; larger hernias show symptoms including chest pain, heartburn and belching.
Visit your medical doctor if you continue to have persistent symptoms of a hiatal hernia. Consult with a gastroenterologist if you have been diagnosed with a hiatal hernia before and symptoms will not go away.
Reduce gastric acid reflux, a common cause of discomfort when a hiatal hernia is present. Take over-the-counter antacids to neutralize stomach acid. Do not rely on antacids to heal an inflamed esophagus, reports MayoClinic.com. Heavy use of antacids results in diarrhea or constipation.
Request a prescription from your doctor for medications that reduce or block acid production. Understand the medications are not quick relief drugs, but will give long-term relief. Common medications include cimetidine, famotidine and nizatidine.
Control symptoms of a hiatal hernia by eating several small meals through the day instead of one large meal. Decrease fatty foods in your diet. MayoClinic.com, suggests eating about three hours before bedtime to reduce acid reflux. Avoid bedtime or midnight snacks.
Lose weight. Participate in 30 minutes of physical activity daily. Walk, run, swim or bike to become more active. If 30 minutes is difficult to squeeze into your daily schedule, break down activities into 10 minute increments. Small activities such as taking the stairs at work, vacuum the house daily or washing window still keep your body active.
Elevate the head of the bed about 6 inches. Place small pieces of wood under the feet of the bed. Use additional pillows to support your body upright while sleeping. Avoid sleeping or napping after eating. Opt for resting while remaining sitting upright.
Things You'll Need
Prescription stomach acid blockers
If your hiatal hernia is unresponsive to other measures, surgery to decrease the opening of the hiatus, repair the esophagus or remove the hernia sac may be necessary. Surgery is often not required; however, some emergency situations and nonresponsive hernias benefit from the invasive treatment.