Hiatal Hernia

Also known as hiatus hernia or stomach hernia

A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of your stomach bulges through an opening in your diaphragm—a muscle that separates the chest and abdomen. The opening is called the esophageal hiatus, and it’s where your esophagus (food tube) passes through before it reaches the stomach. 

As the stomach presses up, it can sometimes allow foods and acids of the stomach to backflow into the esophagus. Symptoms may include heartburn, abdominal discomfort, throat irritation, belching, and regurgitation.

The majority of hiatal hernias are small and do not cause symptoms or require treatment. In rare cases, there can be complications that are medical emergencies and require surgery. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes a hiatal hernia?

    A hiatal hernia happens due to a weakening of the diaphragm muscles. In most cases, the cause of this weakening is unclear, but risk factors include aging, traumatic injury, and abdominal surgery. The hiatal hernia can also be congenital (present at birth) or develop in those who have an abnormally large hiatus. 

  • What does a hiatal hernia feel like and what are the symptoms?

    Most hiatal hernias do not cause symptoms and you may only know you have one if it is discovered in an X-ray or other imaging test. A hiatal hernia can shift the positioning of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) valve and lead to reflux with related heartburn, regurgitation, burping or hiccuping after eating, irritated throat, sour or bitter taste in the mouth, and bad breath.

  • What are the symptoms of a strangulated hiatal hernia?

    If the hernia strangles the blood supply to the stomach, it is a medical emergency that requires urgent medical attention. Symptoms of this complication can include severe chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, bloating, vomiting, inability to pass gas, constipation, warmth or redness over the herniation, rapid heart rate, and bloody or tarry stools.

Key Terms

A Closer Look at a Hiatal Hernia

Explore an interactive model that shows how and where a hiatal hernia occurs, along with what it can look like when the stomach pushes into the esophageal hiatus.

Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Hiatal hernia. Updated January 9, 2020.

  2. Hyun JJ, Bak YT. Clinical significance of hiatal hernia. Gut Liver. 2011;5(3):267-277. doi:10.5009/gnl.2011.5.3.267