How Your Gastroenterologist May Treat A Hiatal Hernia
If you have been experiencing heartburn, trouble swallowing, and other symptoms that your primary care doctor believes may indicate a hiatal hernia, then they will probably refer you to a gastroenterologist for diagnosis and treatment. The process of diagnosing a hiatal hernia is quite simple. Your GI doctor will send a scope down your esophagus and take a look at the area where it meets your stomach. If they see evidence of your stomach pushing through your diagram, they'll diagnose you with a hiatal hernia.
The question then becomes, "how will your hiatal hernia be treated?" Some hiatal hernias do not need treatment, but since yours is causing symptoms that brought you into your doctor's office, your GI doctor will probably recommend one of the following approaches.
If the primary symptom you are experiencing is heartburn, your GI doctor may start by recommending antacids. These over-the-counter meds usually contain calcium carbonate, a substance that neutralizes stomach acid. They're relatively safe and tend to give prompt relief when you are having a flare-up. For mild hiatal hernia symptoms, they may be all you need. However, doctors generally prescribe them as a first-attempt at treatment, and you should not hesitate to tell your doctor if you're still having symptoms in spite of taking antacids.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
If antacids alone are not providing enough relief, then your doctor will probably prescribe a proton pump inhibitor instead. These medications don't neutralize stomach acid — they prevent the stomach from producing so much acid in the first place. This can give any damage in and around your hiatal hernia time to heal and give you more consistent relief. These medications are generally safe, but they can cause side effects like diarrhea, nausea, and headache in some patients.
The most severe hiatal hernias need to be surgically repaired. Because surgery comes with a recovery period and presents some risks, GI doctors do not usually recommend it unless you can't get enough relief from proton pump inhibitors. Most hiatal hernia surgeries are now performed through small incisions with a micro-camera, which speeds up healing. The tear in your diaphragm will be repaired and reinforced. You'll need to stick to a liquid diet for a few days post-surgery, and then eat only soft foods for another week or two.
A visit to the gastroenterologist can be a little nerve-wracking, but rest assured — if you have hiatal hernia symptoms, this is the best thing for you.