November 3, 2010

GERD and Hiatal Hernia

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease – or GERD – and Hiatal Hernia are two gastrointestinal disorders with very similar symptoms, and very different causes, which can occur separately or concurrently.

GERD is a result of frequent heart burn and acid reflux irritating the esophagus.? This can be caused by external factors, such as diet, medications, and health issues.? It can also be caused by an abnormal muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter – the muscle that allows food to pass into the stomach.? An abnormal sphincter is relaxed and allows passage of acid into the esophagus.

A Hiatal Hernia occurs when a portion of the stomach is displaced and either forced through the diaphragm – referred to as a Sliding Hiatal Hernia, or next to the esophagus – commonly known as a Para-Esophageal Hiatal Hernia.

Symptoms behind the Sliding Hiatal Hernia and GERD are strikingly similar.? They include heartburn and acid reflux, nausea and regurgitation.

Though there appears to be a link between the two conditions, it’s difficult to say one causes the other.? Not everyone who has a Hiatal Hernia has GERD and vice versa.

However, there are things that can be pointed to.? When a Hiatal Hernia occurs, it’s usually a result of the lower esophageal sphincter becoming very relaxed or loose (the same contributing factor to GERD), allowing the diaphragm to become displaced and the stomach to protrude.? Two things happen when this occurs:

1.?? The relationship between the sphincter and the diaphragm is altered, allowing acid to move in the opposite direction.

2.?? The junction between the esophagus and the stomach is pulled up, causing the muscles to become even more relaxed and cause reflux.

Treatments of a Sliding Hiatal Hernia and GERD are also very similar, as a Sliding Hiatial Hernia often isn’t serious and simply causes acid reflux.? Options include over the counter antacids or prescription drugs, diet changes, stress management, and if the problem is severe enough surgery for both issues is an option.

Medications and diet changes can help both conditions reduce the occurrence of acid reflux. ?Antacids and prescription drugs help neutralize stomach acid, thus reducing discomfort and damage.? Diet changes can help prevent production of too much stomach acid.

Stress management can also help reduce stomach acids for both conditions.? Excess stomach acids are produced during stressful situations.? People with Hiatal Hernia or GERD under high stress may benefit from simple de-stressing techniques such as deep breaths and counting to ten.

Surgery for a hernia involves pulling the stomach back to its normal position and making the junction between the esophagus and the stomach smaller, preventing recurrence and repairing the cause of the hernia.? Surgery for GERD can be done laparoscopically – a minimally invasive procedure, and involves attaching the stomach around the esophagus, and tightening that junction – preventing acid from entering the esophagus.

The two conditions clearly share several similarities, but science has yet to find a definitive cause and effect relationship between the two.? However, those with one, the other, or both conditions are facing nearly identical roads of treatment and healing.

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