The diaphragm is a muscle that helps us breathe and it separates the chest from the abdomen. Your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach, is located above your diaphragm. Your stomach is normally located below your diaphragm. A natural hole in your diaphragm allows your esophagus and stomach to meet. If you have a hiatus hernia, part of your stomach moves up into your chest through the hole in your diaphragm.

The 2 types of hiatal hernias

Sliding hiatus hernia: is the most common type, accounting for at least 90% of all hiatal hernias.

A sliding hiatus hernia occurs when the junction where the esophagus and stomach join slides upwards into the chest, pulling some of the stomach into the chest with it.

Paraesophageal hiatus hernia or rolling hernia: is the second type of hiatal hernia and is much less common - making up about 10% of all hiatal hernias. In this type of hiatus hernia the junction where the esophagus and stomach join does not move. However, part of the stomach pokes through the hole in the diaphragm into the chest, alongside the esophagus. Paraesophageal means "beside the esophagus" and that's where the name comes from.

Who gets hiatus hernias?

As people get older the structures that hold the esophagus and stomach in place become weaker. This makes them more likely to develop a hiatal hernia. Increased pressure in the abdomen may push the stomach into the chest. Factors that cause increased abdominal pressure include coughing, vomiting, straining, sudden physical activity, pregnancy, and obesity.

Written and Reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team