Hiatal hernia

Last updated: January 12, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

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 aging, 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”.

Definitiontoggle arrow icon

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.)

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon

  • 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.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon

The etiology is multifactorial.

Classificationtoggle arrow icon

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

Pathophysiologytoggle arrow icon


Changes in the presence of a hiatal hernia

Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

  • 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]

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon


Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

Management of patients with sliding hiatal hernia

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

Complicationstoggle arrow icon

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.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Burkitt DP; James PA. Low-residue diets and hiatus hernia. Lancet. 1973; 302 (7821): p.128–130.doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(73)93067-5 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  2. Guidelines for the Management of Hiatal Hernia. Updated: April 1, 2013. Accessed: January 12, 2017.
  3. Johnson LF. 24-hour pH monitoring in the study of gastroesophageal reflux. J Clin Gastroenterol. 1980; 2 (4): p.387-399.
  4. Hauer-jensen M, Bursac Z, Read RC. Is herniosis the single etiology of Saint's triad?. Hernia. Hernia. 2009; 13 (1): p.29-34.doi: 10.1007/s10029-008-0421-x . | Open in Read by QxMD
  5. Dufresne CR, Jeyasingham K, Baker RR. Achalasia of the cardia associated with pulmonary sarcoidosis.. Surgery. 1983; 94 (1): p.32-5.
  6. Yoshio KABE, Haruaki OKAMURA, Hiroshi OHATA, Yosuke KAWAGUCHI, Ikuo ISHII, Ken MORITA. CLINICAL STUDY OF SAINT'S TRIAD. The journal of the Japanese Practical Surgeon Society. 1987; 48 (5): p.615-620.doi: 10.3919/ringe1963.48.615 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  7. Stylopoulos N, Gazelle GS, Rattner DW. Paraesophageal hernias: operation or observation?. Ann Surg. 2002; 236 (4): p.492-500.
  8. Weston AP. Hiatal hernia with cameron ulcers and erosions. Gastrointest Endosc Clin N Am. 1996; 6 (4): p.671-679.

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