Hiatal Hernia

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This section explains how food moves from the mouth to the stomach. It also talks about the role of the diaphragm. Knowing this will help you understand what a hiatal hernia is. After swallowing, food goes through a long tube. It is called the esophagus. This tube leads to the stomach. In the stomach, acids start breaking down food. This process is known as digestion. The acids are known as gastric juices. These juices are usually kept in the stomach. A valve mechanism keeps the acids in the stomach. It prevents them from going up to the esophagus. The valve mechanism is made of two muscles. These muscles help prevent the back flow of the acids in the esophagus. This back flow is also called reflux. The first muscle is found in the area that separates the esophagus from the stomach. It is called the LES. LES stands for Lower Esophageal Sphincter. This muscle allows food to go into the stomach but not back into the esophagus. The second muscle is the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a very large muscle. It separates the lungs from the abdomen. It also helps with breathing. The diaphragm has a hole in it. The esophagus goes through this hole into the abdomen. The hole is called the "hiatus." It also helps prevent the backflow of juices from the stomach into the esophagus. If these two muscles do not work properly, gastric juices can go back into the esophagus. It can also cause heartburn. This is known as gastro-esophageal reflux. It is also called GERD. The lining of the stomach is made up of cells that are used to acids. These cells are strong and are not damaged by acids. The esophageal lining is not used to acids. The cells in the esophagus are not able to tolerate these digestive acids. A hiatal hernia causes the upper part of the stomach to bulge upward. This means the point where the esophagus and the stomach are joined is above the level of the diaphragm. It is now in the chest. In these cases, the diaphragm does not help stop reflux.




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Last modified: May 16, 2013