Hiatal Hernia and GERD

Topic Overview

The abdomen and chest are separated by a sheetlike muscle called the diaphragm. The esophagus passes through an opening (the hiatus) in the diaphragm to connect to the stomach. A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach bulges out of the abdomen, through the hiatus, and into the chest. When this happens, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) may move above the diaphragm.

Normally, pressure from the diaphragm muscle helps keep the LES valve closed. When a hiatal hernia occurs, the valve is pushed above the diaphragm so the diaphragm muscle can no longer help keep the valve closed. If the valve cannot prevent stomach acid and juices from backing up into the esophagus, symptoms of heartburn may occur.

A hiatal hernia is often associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The most noticeable symptom of GERD is heartburn.

A person may have a hiatal hernia or GERD or both. A person with a hiatal hernia may not always have GERD. And many people with GERD do not have a hiatal hernia.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter J. Kahrilas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Revised March 6, 2012

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