Do I need surgery for a hiatal hernia?
From the Editors of Live Right Live Well
Probably not, says Dr. Nicholas J. Talley, a gastroenterologist and
chair of the department of internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in
Jacksonville, Fla. “Even large hiatal hernias often cause no
significant symptoms,” says Talley, and “a hiatal hernia should not
be treated surgically unless symptoms are chronic and severe, and at
least three months of other treatments have not provided relief.”
What’s a hiatal hernia? It’s when part of the stomach slips through
an opening in the diaphragm, a muscle that traverses the abdomen.
Millions of people have hiatal hernias and don’t even know it. Problems
develop because hiatal hernias are strongly associated with chronic
heartburn, which results when stomach acids splash back into the
esophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach),
causing burning pain in your chest. While heartburn can occur without a
hiatal hernia, a hernia makes it more likely that digestive acids will
back up. However, when this happens, “what usually needs treatment is
not the hernia but the heartburn,” says Talley.
So, if you have a hiatal hernia and suffer from heartburn, talk to
your doctor about simple lifestyle adjustments that can often soothe
symptoms. A few top tips:
• Don’t overeat or eat on the run.
• Avoid lying down after eating or eating shortly before bed.
When you do lie down, elevate your head with extra pillows or by
placing bricks under the head of the bed.
• Chew gum after eating to stimulate saliva, which washes stomach acids back into the stomach.
• Quit smoking, drink less alcohol and lose excess weight.
If lifestyle adjustments don’t provide sufficient relief, your
doctor may suggest medication. Surgery should only be considered if
symptoms remain severe after several months of other treatment, says
Talley. Fortunately, healthy living and medication usually do the
To feature this article:
- please select all code below (Ctrl. + A)
- copy to your clipboard (Ctrl. + C) and
- paste (Ctrl. + V) into your website