A hernia happens when one part of your body forces its way into a place where it doesn't belong. There are many types of hernias, but one of the most common is the stomach, or hiatal, hernia. This happens when the stomach protrudes into your chest cavity through an opening in the diaphragm. A hiatal hernia allows stomach acid to back up into your esophagus, which may cause heartburn, belching, nausea and chest pain, but the condition is rarely serious. A few lifestyle changes and some antacids may be all you need.
Eat smart. Avoid heartburn-triggering foods such as chocolate, onions, spicy foods, citrus fruit and products that use lots of tomatoes (pasta sauce, ketchup, etc.) Eat lean foods; fatty foods take longer to empty from the stomach, and they relax your body's mechanism for closing the esophagus. This allows acid more time and a better opportunity to seep back up. Eat small, regular light meals and avoid alcohol.
Watch what you do after you eat. Sit up; lying down while your stomach secretions are at work increases the chance that they'll sneak back up into your esophagus. Eat at least three hours before bedtime.
Quit smoking. Smoking makes you cough, and coughing aggravates the symptoms of a hiatal hernia.
Keep a healthy weight. Obesity increases the risk of hiatal hernia. Extra weight puts pressure on the stomach and can cause the disorder or make it worse.
Sleep at a slight angle. Using a foam sleep wedge (they make these especially for people with a hiatal hernia and acid reflux) can help. So can putting the head of your bed on 6-inch risers or concrete blocks.
See your doctor. If your heartburn or other symptoms such as belching, chest pain or nausea don't go away with lifestyle changes, have your doctor investigate the cause. Your doctor may prescribe medications that neutralize stomach acid or block its production. According to the Mayo Clinic, surgery is a rare option reserved for especially stubborn symptoms or emergency cases.
It's common to take antacids at the first sign of heartburn, but if the symptoms stick around for longer than two weeks, it could be a sign of an underlying problem such as hiatal hernia. See your doctor.