A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach pushes through an opening in the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. The diaphragm is the thin muscle wall that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen. The opening in the diaphragm is where the esophagus and stomach join.
A hiatal hernia can develop in people of all ages and both sexes, although it frequently occurs in people age 50 and older. Hiatal hernia occurs more often in overweight people and smokers.
The most common cause of a hiatal hernia is an increase in pressure in the abdominal cavity. (The abdomen consists of the lower part of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, and bladder.) Pressure can come from coughing, vomiting, straining during a bowel movement, heavy lifting, or physical strain. Pregnancy, obesity, or extra fluid in the abdomen can also lead to a hiatal hernia.
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