Have you been dealing with frequent heartburn, trouble swallowing, chest pain, and vomiting? You may have a hiatal hernia, a condition that occurs when a part of your stomach protrudes through the diaphragm, which is the layer of muscle that separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity. Hiatal hernias are treatable, but in order to get diagnosed and begin treatment, you will need to see a gastroenterologist — a doctor who specializes in the digestive tract. Here's a look at how a gastroenterologist will likely diagnose and treat your hiatal hernia.
How Hiatal Hernias Are Diagnosed
If your gastroenterologist agrees that your symptoms indicate a likely hiatal hernia, then the first thing they'll usually do is take an x-ray of your chest and abdomen. Prior to this x-ray, you will need to drink a liquid that coats your GI tract and makes it more visible in the x-ray films. If your doctor is able to see the hiatal hernia in the x-rays, then the diagnosis will be made right then and there. Sometimes, though, this part of the digestive tract is not overly visible in the x-rays, so your gastroenterologist may send you for an upper endoscopy, which will give them a closer look.
In an upper endoscopy, a camera will be inserted down your throat and used to examine the interior of your esophagus. This examination should make it clear whether or not your stomach has herniated through the diaphragm. The endoscopy is generally done with you awake but sedated.
How Hiatal Hernias Are Treated
If you do have a hiatal hernia, then your gastroenterologist will generally start by prescribing medications to ease your symptoms. You can take an antacid to neutralize stomach acid and ease your heartburn, plus a proton pump inhibitor to reduce stomach acid production.
If these conservative treatments do not keep your symptoms under control, then your gastroenterologist will likely recommend surgery to repair the hernia. This procedure is performed under general anesthesia. Your surgeon will make several small incisions in your abdomen. They'll then insert small surgical tools through these incisions and use them to pull the stomach down through the diaphragm. Then, they can stitch up any openings in the diaphragm to prevent the hernia from reforming.
If you are suffering symptoms you believe may be due to a hiatal hernia, do not hesitate to visit a gastroenterologist in your area. This is a relatively common condition and one that's easily diagnosed and treated.