What is a Para-Esophageal Hernia?
Any time an internal body part pushes into an area where it doesn't belong, it's called a hernia. The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm - the muscular wall separating the chest cavity from the abdomen. Normally, the esophagus goes through the hiatus and attaches to the stomach. In a hiatal hernia, the stomach bulges up into the chest through that opening. There are two main types of hiatal hernias: sliding and paraesophageal (next to the esophagus).
In a sliding hiatal hernia, the stomach and the section of the esophagus that joins the stomach slide up into the chest through the hiatus. This is the more common type of hernia. These sliding hiatal hernias are a risk factor for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and many patients with hiatal hernias suffer from GERD symptoms such as heartburn.
The paraesophageal hernia is less common, but is more cause for concern. In many patients, paraesophageal hernias may not cause any symptoms for the patient. These asymptomatic hernias can be safely observed and do not require surgery. When a paraesophageal hernia begins to cause symptoms (chest pain, upper abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing), these are usually repaired. Symptomatic paraesophageal hernias are at higher risk for progressing to incarceration (stomach gets stuck resulting in obstruction) or ischemia (blood supply to the stomach is cut off) resulting in the need for emergency surgery.
- Chest pain
- Epigastric pain (upper abdomen below the ribs)
- Dysphagia (trouble swallowing)
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach ulcer