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Your diaphragm — which is your primary muscle used for breathing — is a thin, dome-shaped muscle that separates your chest cavity from your abdomen.

An opening in your diaphragm (called a hiatus in medical terminology) allows your esophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach) to connect with your stomach. If the upper part of your stomach pushes through this opening, you have a hiatal hernia.

Keep reading to learn how to treat a hiatal hernia at home, hernia prevention tips, and when you should seek professional medical help.

According to a 2019 research review, one of the first steps in treating symptomatic hiatal hernia is addressing gastric acid secretion. Recommendations include:

  • losing weight (if needed)
  • decreasing food portion sizes
  • eating several smaller meals throughout the day (as opposed to a few large meals)
  • elevating the head of your bed by 8 inches
  • avoiding meals 2 to 3 hours before bedtime or before lying down
  • avoiding or limiting “trigger” foods and drink such as fried foods, fatty foods, acidic foods (citrus, tomato, vinegar), spicy foods, caffeine (coffee, chocolate), alcoholic beverages, carbonated drinks
  • quitting smoking
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as antacids, such as Gaviscon (aluminum with magnesium hydroxide) or H-blockers (such as Pepcid AC or famotidine)
  • avoiding tight clothing that can increase the pressure on your abdomen, such as a tight belt, control top hosiery, and body shapers

If you have a hiatal hernia, be aware of symptoms that may indicate blood flow to your stomach has been blocked by an obstruction or a strangulated hernia. Call your doctor immediately if you:

  • can’t pass gas or empty your bowels
  • feel nauseated
  • experience vomiting
  • have chest pain

Chest discomfort could also be a symptom of heart concerns, which also requires emergency medical treatment.

In addition to losing weight and avoiding “trigger” foods, there are a number of anecdotal treatments for hiatal hernias that are suggested by proponents of natural healing. Some of these suggestions include:

  • yoga
  • self-massage, massaging your abdominal muscles in a downward motion while lying on your back on a flat surface
  • consuming apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, aloe vera, slippery elm, or chamomile

Please note: The anecdotal treatments discussed in this section are not medically approved. Before trying them, consult with your doctor to see if they’re appropriate and safe for your current health situation.

If lifestyle changes and home treatments aren’t helping, your doctor may recommend prescription medication or surgery.

Prescription medication for hiatal hernias include:

Surgery for hiatal hernias typically involves three steps. The surgeon:

  • moves the hiatal hernia from your chest cavity back into your abdomen
  • repairs the valve in your esophagus where your esophagus joins your stomach
  • tightens the hole (hiatus) in your diaphragm

According to the Esophageal Cancer Awareness Association (ECAA), hiatal hernias are quite common, occurring in up to 60 percent of people by the time they are 60 years old. They also note that it’s unusual for serious conditions to develop from this type of hernia. Hiatal hernias are most common in adults who are 50+ years old.

It’s not currently known why the opening in your diaphragm becomes weak and enlarges. It may be hereditary or it may be caused by pressure buildup in your abdominal cavity from such things as:

  • obesity
  • straining during bowel movements
  • heavy lifting
  • exercises such as weightlifting
  • coughing
  • vomiting

You can’t prevent hereditary conditions, but you may be able to address other potential causes.

In a 2007 interview, John E. Pandolfino, MD stated that, “Obese people are certainly more prone to the development of hiatus hernia.” This leads to the conclusion that, if you are overweight, reducing your weight could lower your chances of experiencing a hiatal hernia. Other prevention methods to consider could include:

  • avoiding strenuous activities such as lifting heavy objects
  • quitting smoking
  • eating a balanced, nutritious diet

Hiatal hernias are quite common, especially in adults who are 50+ years old. Fortunately, it’s unusual for serious conditions to develop from them.

While there are lifestyle changes you can make to treat hiatal hernia, consider discussing those changes with your doctor before moving ahead with them. Lifestyle changes include:

  • losing weight (if needed)
  • avoiding “trigger” foods
  • wearing loose clothing
  • quitting smoking

If home treatment is not effective, your doctor may recommend prescription medication or, in some cases, surgery.