The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm (a muscle separating the abdomen and chest) that the esophagus or swallowing tube passes through to reach the stomach. If the hiatus weakens and stretches, part of the stomach and/or the esophagus can squeeze into the chest cavity, producing a hiatal hernia.
There are two main types of hiatal hernias: sliding and paraesophageal (next to the esophagus).
In a sliding hiatal hernia, the stomach and the esophagus slide up into the chest through the hiatus. This is the more common type of hernia. Generally, sliding hiatal hernias pose no threat to a person's health unless you develop symptoms of GERD.
Paraesophageal hernias are less common but are more cause for concern. The esophagus and stomach stay in their normal locations, but part of the stomach squeezes through the hiatus, landing it next to the esophagus. Although you can have this type of hernia without any symptoms, the danger is that the stomach can become "strangled," or have its blood supply shut off.
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