Medical Definition of Hiatus hernia

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

Hernia, hiatus: Protrusion of the stomach up into the opening normally occupied by the esophagus in the diaphragm, the great dome of muscle that separates the thoracic (chest) cavity from the abdomen.

Normally, the esophagus passes down through the chest, crosses the diaphragm, enters the abdomen through a hole in the diaphragm called the esophageal hiatus and joins the stomach just below the diaphragm. When there is a hiatal hernia, the opening of the esophageal hiatus is larger than normal and a part of the stomach slips up or passes (herniates) through the hiatus and into the chest.

This type of hernia can be congenital (present at birth), More often it may be acquired over the years, for example, through strenuous physical activity. Symptoms usually start with a tingling or burning sensation, although patients may be able to see a bulge where the hernia is located. If extreme pain is present, emergency surgery may be needed. Treatment is via conventional or laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery.

"Hiatus" in Latin means "an opening, gaping mouth, or chasm" which came from the verb "hiare" meaning "to gape or yawn." Therefore, a "hiatus" is a gaping opening in something, such as the opening of a cave in a cliff or a major interruption (hole) in a conversation. In this case, hiatus (or hiatal) refers to the opening in the diaphragm.

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018