Hiatal hernias are a fairly common health condition that can greatly affect an individual’s quality of life. They occur when part of the stomach organ pushes through the diaphragm and into a person’s chest cavity. This anomaly tends to lead to various symptoms, including heartburn, acid reflux, and chest pain. Though there are several factors that contribute to the development and exacerbation of a hiatal hernia, weight gain is one of the most concerning. But, can a hiatal hernia cause weight gain, or does weight gain cause hiatal hernias?

Let’s explore the relationship between weight gain and hiatal hernias and examine how body weight can contribute to the condition.

Exploring Whether a Hiatal Hernia Can Cause Weight Gain

To make sense of the connection between weight gain and hiatal hernias, it’s important to understand what a hiatal hernia is in the first place. The diaphragm is a large muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. It has a small opening in it called the hiatus, and the esophagus passes through this opening to connect to the stomach. In hiatal hernias, part of the stomach protrudes through the hiatus and into the chest.

There are two main types of hiatal hernias, sliding and paraesophageal. A sliding hiatal hernia is the most common type, and it occurs when the stomach and lower part of the esophagus move up into the chest.

Paraesophageal hernias are less common but more severe, as part of the stomach presses up through the hiatus and sits beside the esophagus. This can potentially lead to strangulation of the stomach tissues.

The Role of Weight Gain in Developing Hiatal Hernias

Weight gain, especially when it shows in the abdominal area, can play an important role in the development or worsening of a hiatal hernia. However, hiatal hernias don’t usually cause weight gain. Instead, they’re often the result of putting on excess body weight. 

Several weight-related effects point to the relationship between weight and hernia severity.

Increased Intra-Abdominal Pressure

Excess weight, especially around the abdomen, increases the pressure inside the abdominal cavity. The increase in intra-abdominal pressure can push the stomach upwards through the body’s hiatus. This can lead to hiatal hernias or worsen those that are already present. This isn’t unlike how an increase in tire pressure can cause it to bulge at weak points.

Weakening of the Diaphragm

Weight gain can result in excess body fat around the abdominal organs and within the abdominal wall. This added body fat can weaken the muscles in the diaphragm, which makes it easier for parts of the stomach to herniate.

Changes in Posture

Obesity can alter a person’s posture, leading to a forward tilt of the pelvis and increased curving of the spine. These changes in posture can increase abdominal pressure and contribute to stomach herniation.

Many people also wonder, “Does a hiatal hernia cause bloating?” Due to the digestive discomfort that hernias can cause, bloating isn’t uncommon in these situations. This is especially true when a rolling hernia occurs. Rolling hernias occur when the part of the stomach protruding into the hiatus becomes twisted or compressed by the diaphragm.

Symptoms and Complications

The symptoms of a hiatal hernia can range from mild to severe, depending on the size of the hernia and its effect on the surrounding tissues. Common symptoms include:

  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath

In severe cases, especially with paraesophageal hernias, there can be complications such as:

  • Strangulation of the stomach, which can cut off blood flow and cause tissue death
  • Severe acid reflux which leads to esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus)
  • Chronic anemia due to slow bleeding from the hernia site

Preventing and Managing Hiatal Hernias Through Weight Control

Given that there is a strong link between weight gain and hiatal hernias, managing one’s body weight is an essential step in both preventing and treating this condition. Strategies to control body weight and reduce the severity of hiatal hernias include the following:

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

Adopting a well-balanced diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help an individual maintain a healthy weight. Avoiding foods that trigger acid reflux (such as spicy food, fatty meals, and too much citrus) can also help reduce or manage symptoms of a hiatal hernia.

Getting Regular Exercise

Engaging in regular exercise helps to burn calories and reduce body fat. Exercises designed to strengthen the core muscles, can effectively support the diaphragm and reduce the odds of developing a hernia.

Avoiding Overeating

Large meals can increase abdominal pressure, which often worsens hiatal hernia symptoms. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can help keep abdominal pressure more manageable.

Participating in Weight Loss Programs

For individuals who struggle with obesity and trying to lose weight, a structured program may be worth exploring. Weight loss programs that include medical supervision, diet planning, and therapeutic services can be incredibly effective. These programs aim to provide individuals with personalized guidance toward achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Making Lifestyle Modifications

A couple of simple lifestyle changes may help reduce hiatal hernia symptoms as well. These include elevating the head of one’s bed and not lying down right after eating. Avoiding clothing that’s too tight is another practical measure individuals can try for hiatal hernia management.

Surgical Intervention for Hiatal Hernias

In some cases, lifestyle changes and weight management may not be sufficient for hiatal hernia management. For those situations, surgical intervention may be necessary. Hiatal hernia surgery typically involves pulling the stomach organ back into the abdominal cavity, and then repairing the hiatus. After this procedure, overweight patients may eventually continue pursuing healthy weight loss.

Weight loss surgery, such as gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy, may also be considered for obese patients. This way, medical professionals can address both the hernia and the underlying weight issue at the same time.

Can a Hiatal Hernia Really Cause Weight Gain?

The relationship between weight gain and hiatal hernias is both clear and significant. Excess body weight, particularly around the abdomen, increases the risk of developing and exacerbating hiatal hernias, rather than the other way around. Managing weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise can play a key role in preventing and relieving the symptoms of hiatal hernias. 

If you’re struggling with severe obesity or complications from a hiatal hernia, surgical options may provide relief and improve your quality of life. Understanding and addressing whether hiatal hernias can cause weight gain is essential for the effective prevention and treatment of this condition. 

Reach out to Arizona Premier Surgery for professional medical care today. Schedule an appointment with our office at your convenience.