Hiatal hernia is one of the primary culprits behind gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), which may lead to degrading of the esophagus over time. Though most hiatal hernias do not become serious, the acid reflux they allow can be uncomfortable and interrupt with daily life. The good news is that most hiatal hernias are easily treated — they aren’t serious enough to warrant direct intervention and repair, but a few simple changes can greatly reduce the discomfort that you feel as a result. Bear in mind that hiatal hernias are more likely to appear later in life, so if you’re over 50 and have been experiencing persistent heartburn, then it may be time to consult your doctor about management options.
Medications. For most hiatal hernias, over-the-counter antacids are sufficient to relieve the symptoms of GERD. There are also products intended to coat your throat in order to protect your esophagus during the worst times for reflux, such as right after meals or at bedtime. If neither of these is sufficient, your doctor might prescribe medications that are intended to reduce stomach acid production.
Lifestyle. Acid reflux has a number of triggers and risk factors; hiatal hernia symptoms may be able to be managed by addressing these. Heartburn will generally get worse after eating large meals or acidic foods, as well as consuming potentially irritating substances such as caffeine or alcohol. Eating a number of smaller meals during the day, and always at least an hour before you lay down for a nap or bedtime, should help reduce acid reflux. Limit spicy food, tomatoes and excessive grease. If you’re overweight, losing at least 10 percent of your overall body weight may significantly impact hiatal hernia symptoms. Finally, drink plenty of water to keep stomach acid from concentrating and to help prevent fluid retention, which may also make the symptoms of hiatal hernia worse.
Surgery. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Surgery is generally reserved for emergency situations and for people who aren't helped by medications to relieve heartburn and acid reflux.” While this is a last-resort option, surgery may be necessary if less invasive measures do not work and/or if your esophagus sustains significant damage as a result of persistent acid reflux. People with serious hiatal hernias sometimes have difficulty swallowing, which may also be cause for surgery.