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Hiatal hernia

Last updated: September 23, 2021

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A hiatal (or hiatus) hernia is the abnormal protrusion of any abdominal structure/organ, most often a portion of the stomach, into the thoracic cavity through a lax diaphragmatic esophageal hiatus. It may be congenital or secondary to ageing, obesity, and/or smoking. There are four types of hiatal hernia: sliding, paraesophageal, mixed, and complex. Sliding hiatal hernias, where the gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) and the gastric cardia migrate into the thorax, account for 95% of hiatal hernias. In paraesophageal hernias (PEH), only the gastric fundus herniates into the thorax, whereas in mixed hiatal hernias, the GEJ as well as the gastric fundus herniate. Complex hiatal hernias are rare and characterized by protrusion of any abdominal organ other than the stomach. Nearly half of all patients with hiatal hernia are asymptomatic and require no medical or surgical intervention. Symptomatic patients with sliding hiatal hernia present with features of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which are usually managed with lifestyle modification and proton pump inhibitors. Patients with PEH or mixed hiatal hernias typically present with intermittent dysphagia, substernal discomfort, or abdominal pain, and in rare cases present acutely with gastric volvulus and strangulation. All symptomatic PEH, mixed, and complex hiatal hernias require operative intervention to avoid life-threatening complications. Also see our article “Congenital diaphragmatic hernias”.

Protrusion of any abdominal structure/organ into the thorax through a lax diaphragmatic esophageal hiatus. (In 95% of cases, a portion of the stomach is herniated.)

  • Incidence increases with:
    • Age: affects ∼ 70% of people > 70 years
    • BMI
  • Prevalence
    • More prevalent in females and Western populations [1]
    • Most commonly occur on the left side, as the liver protects the right diaphragm.

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

The etiology is multifactorial.

Types of hiatal hernias [2]

Type I: sliding hiatal hernia

Type II: paraesophageal hiatal hernia

Type III: mixed hiatal hernia

  • Mix of types I and II
  • The GEJ and a portion of the gastric fundus prolapse through the hiatus.

Type IV: complex hiatal hernia

Anatomy

Changes in the presence of a hiatal hernia

  • Most patients are asymptomatic
  • Type I: symptoms of GERD
  • Type II, III, and IV
    • Epigastric/substernal pain
    • Early satiety
    • Retching
    • Symptoms of GERD can occur.
  • Saint triad: a combination of cholelithiasis, diverticulosis, and hiatal hernia may occur in ∼ 1.5% of patients. [4][5][6]

.

Management of patients with sliding hiatal hernia

Management of patients with types II, III, IV hiatal hernias [2]

Complications of type I

Complications of type II, III, IV

The complications of types II, III, and IV are often medical emergencies.

We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

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  2. Guidelines for the Management of Hiatal Hernia. https://www.sages.org/publications/guidelines/guidelines-for-the-management-of-hiatal-hernia. Updated: April 1, 2013. Accessed: January 12, 2017.
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