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Hiatus hernia

General characteristics

General characteristics

A hiatus hernia occurs when a portion of the top of the stomach bulges through the hole in the diaphragm and pushes up into the chest cavity. The exact reasons why this should happen are unclear but it seems that anything increasing the pressure in the abdominal cavity may contribute such as being overweight, straining on the toilet regularly, coughing, vomiting, lifting heavy objects or pregnancy. It also seems that the strong muscular fibres of the diaphragm, that normally keep the stomach, in place may stretch or weaken with age or with injury to the area. Risk factors include being over 50's, being a women, being overweight, smokers, constipation, swallowing air when eating or drinking, repressed anger, wearing overly tight clothing, and problems with faulty digestion in the small intestines or bowel, usually through poor diet.

Sometimes no symptoms are felt and the person may not be aware of the hernia. When symptoms do occur they may include heartburn, belching, pain in the chest, regurgitation of food, gurgling noises in the chest, difficulty swallowing (as the hernia is trapped within the diaphragm), hiccups, voice changes and asthma like breathing difficulties. These symptoms often start just after eating or when bending or lying down. Occasionally the hernia may cause so much acid to come into contact with the gullet lining that it may ulcerate and produce severe pain.

A simple way to self diagnose a hiatal hernia is to place your fingers on the solar plexus (the area just below the midline of the ribcage) and take a deep breath. The solar plexus should expand and move outward. If there is no movement at the solar plexus and you have to lift your chest and shoulders to take a deep breath, then you probably have a hiatal hernia. You should be able to take a deep abdominal breath without lifting your shoulders.

Healing objectives are to eliminate constipation, correct any digestive problems elsewhere in the system, introduce more beneficial bacteria to the bowel, improve diet, reduce stress and soothe symptoms.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Keep the diet light and full of fresh wholefoods and freshly made juices of fruit or vegetables. Eating raw or lightly steamed vegetables will provide plenty of fibre and reduce the chances of constipation occurring.

Eat slowly and calmly and avoid drinking anything with your meals.

Soak some oats in a bowl of water overnight and eat them for breakfast the next day. Oats are soothing to the lining of the gullet easing any heartburn, provide good fibre and steady blood sugar supplies.

Avoid caffeine as this relaxes the valve between the stomach and gullet and can let more acid to escape from the stomach.

Avoid simple starches, carbohydrates and sugar.

Avoid refined and processed carbohydrates and junk foods generally as these cause faulty digestion which has links with increased abdominal pressure and hernia formation.

Eat small meals more often as large meals will make the symptoms worse.

Don't eat big or heavy meals after about 5pm.

Eat an apple just before going to bed, not sure why but it seems to work for some people.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Peppermint has a question mark around it regarding hiatus hernia. Peppermint does relax the muscles of the sphincters in the digestive system and so may contribute to the likelihood of hiatal hernia forming. It is this action that may prove beneficial if a cup of peppermint tea were taken before the exercise suggested in the natural healing section of hiatus hernia. It may help to relax the oesophageal sphincter and allow the stomach to drop down through the diaphragm into its correct place.
Herbs to soothe any discomfort caused by acid and help coat and protect the gullet lining include slippery elm, marshmallow root and comfrey leaf. Make a tea by adding boiling water to a teaspoon of marshmallow root and slippery elm powder and a half teaspoon of dried comfrey leaf. Stir into a paste and spoon it down. Do not use the comfrey leaf for more than a week or so as it may cause a build up of harmful chemicals in the liver (though some older country people swear by eating a piece of fresh comfrey leaf everyday for their entire lives for strength and stamina).
Strong raspberry leaf tea (2 teaspoons per cup, 3 cups daily) can help to tighten and strengthen the muscles of the sphincter and diaphragm.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Ask a chiropractor if they have experience in manually correcting hiatus hernias, many do.

Some have corrected the problem themselves by drinking at least a pint of warm water on an empty stomach, going high up onto their tiptoes then suddenly dropping the heels down quickly. Repeat this movement several times as the weight of the water can cause the trapped stomach part to drop back into place. You could try substituting the pint of warm water for a pint of warm peppermint tea!

Here is a link to an excellent article on the causes of hiatus hernia and some simple manual tricks to help fix it. 4 pages of info so read to the bottom and click 'next' to keep reading.

Try blowing up a couple of small balloons each day. Some people have strengthened their diaphragm muscles by doing this.

Many people find relief by taking  teaspoon of cider vinegar in water before each meal.

Try taking some probiotic formulas which help keep the whole digestive system healthy and can eliminate bloating and gas, often implicated in causing the stomach to push up through the diaphragm.

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