What are the Symptoms of a Strangulated Hiatal Hernia?

A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of the stomach protrudes into the chest through the diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest. When a hiatal hernia becomes strangulated, it means that the blood supply to the herniated part of the stomach is compromised, leading to a medical emergency. The symptoms of a strangulated hiatal hernia can be severe and may include:

  • Severe Chest Pain: One of the most prominent symptoms is intense and continuous chest pain, often located beneath the breastbone (sternum) and radiating to the back or the shoulder blades. The pain can be sharp and excruciating.
  • Difficulty Swallowing: Strangulation of the hernia can lead to a complete or partial blockage of the esophagus, causing difficulty or pain when swallowing.
  • Severe Heartburn: Individuals may experience severe heartburn that doesn’t respond to antacids or other home remedies. This heartburn is often accompanied by regurgitation of stomach contents into the mouth.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Persistent nausea and vomiting are common symptoms. Vomited material may be partially digested or contain blood.
  • Bloating and Abdominal Distension: The abdomen may become bloated and visibly distended due to the trapped stomach portion.
  • Inability to Pass Gas or Stool: A strangulated hiatal hernia can obstruct the passage of gas and stool through the digestive tract, leading to constipation and abdominal discomfort.
  • Breathing Difficulty: In severe cases, a strangulated hiatal hernia can press against the lungs and interfere with breathing, leading to shortness of breath.
  • Fever: An infection may develop in the affected area, leading to a fever and an overall feeling of illness.

A strangulated hiatal hernia is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention and often surgical intervention to relieve the strangulation and restore blood flow to the affected area. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms suggestive of a strangulated hiatal hernia, call 911 or seek emergency medical care immediately. Early intervention is crucial to prevent serious complications, such as tissue death (gangrene) or perforation of the esophagus, which can be life-threatening.