What is a Hiatal Hernia?
A hiatal hernia happens when the diaphragm, the muscle that divides the chest from the abdomen, has a weakness or defect. This weakness allows the stomach, and potentially other organs and tissue, to bulge into the chest cavity. Normally the esophagus, or food tube, passes through a small hole in the diaphragm where it connects with the stomach.
You will not be able to see a hiatal hernia, unlike many other types of hernias. Small hiatal hernias that do not cause symptoms may only be discovered when testing is being done for another purpose. If a hiatal hernia is suspected, testing must be done to determine the type and severity, as the doctor will not be able to visualize the hernia until surgery begins otherwise.
Many patients who have a hiatal hernia do not realize that it is present, as the symptoms can be vague and are often dismissed as an upset stomach or heartburn.