Symptoms of a Hiatal Hernia

Woman holding stomach, cropped view
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Fifty percent of hiatal hernia patients don't experience any symptoms. For the other fifty percent of patients, the following symptoms may occur.

  • Heartburn (which is worse when bending over or lying down shortly after eating)
  • Regurgitation (backflow of stomach contents into the back of the throat
  • Vomiting
  • Gastric reflux (backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus)
  • A sour or bitter taste in the mouth
  • Frequent belching
  • Frequent hiccups
  • Chest pain radiating from below the breastbone (the sternum)
  • Feeling of pressure in the chest
  • A bloated feeling after eating
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Abdominal pressure, especially soon after eating
  • Discomfort or pain in the stomach
  • Discomfort or pain in the esophagus
  • Gas
  • Unexplained coughing
  • Difficulty swallowing


Heartburn is often the major symptom for those with a hiatal hernia. Therefore, it would be a good idea to know what heartburn feels like. Below is an explanation of each sign of heartburn.

A burning sensation in the chest
This burning sensation usually starts behind the breastbone (the sternum), and may travel up to the throat. It usually occurs shortly after eating, and can last from a few minutes to several hours.

A burning feeling in the throat
There can be several causes of a burning throat, such as a sore throat or inflammation of the adenoids. A more common cause of this burning sensation is Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

There can also be a sour, salty, or acidic taste in the mouth. This is a sensation of burning, usually high up in the neck though it can occur lower. The pain may worsen with swallowing. This burning sensation can result from irritation when stomach contents reflux up into the throat.

Sour or bitter taste in the mouth
This sour or bitter taste can occur when stomach contents reflux up into the esophagus and may reach the back of the throat.

When the contents enter the back of the throat, a person will often have a sour or bitter taste in their mouth.

Difficulty swallowing
Trouble with swallowing (dysphagia) occurs when food does not pass normally from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. There may be a sensation of food sticking in the throat, chest pressure or "burning" after eating, or a feeling of choking.

Difficulty swallowing could be a sign of various conditions, including erosive esophagitis and esophageal cancer, and should always be evaluated by a physician.

Chronic coughing
In some studies, GERD accounted for about 41% of cases of chronic cough in nonsmoking patients. If stomach acid reflux (back up) into the esophagus and is aspirated, it can cause coughing.

Wheezing or other asthma-like symptoms
Several studies suggest a significant link between GERD and asthma. The results of these studies show that up to 60% of people with asthma also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), compared with 10% of the general population.

GERD can affect asthma when stomach acid reflux into the esophagus and is aspirated into the airways and lungs, and can make breathing difficult and cause the patient to wheeze and cough.


Additional Information About Hiatal Hernias:

What can cause a hiatal hernia?
Learn what conditions and lifestyle events can contribute to hiatal hernias.

Diagnosing Hiatal Hernias
There are a few procedures that are used to diagnose the presence of a hiatal hernia.

Treating Hiatal Hernias
For approximately 50% of individuals with a hiatal hernia, symptoms are not present. For those who do experience symptoms, it is usually caused by heartburn, or acid reflux. Many individuals with a hiatal hernia also have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. For them, their doctors may prescribe a treatment plan that is similar to the treatment for GERD.

Hiatal Hernia Diet Tips
About 50% of all people with hiatal hernias do not have any symptoms. For the other approximate 50% of individuals with hiatal hernias who do have symptoms, heartburn is the most common symptom. Knowing how to control the heartburn through diet is important.

Paraesophageal Hiatal Hernia
There are two categories of hiatal hernias, sliding or paraesophageal. With paraesophageal hernias, the gastro-esophageal junction remains where it belongs, but part of the stomach is squeezed up into the chest beside the esophagus. These hernias remain in the chest at all times. With this type of hernia, complications can occur.



"Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 07–0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).

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