Hiatal Hernia: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach bulges into the chest cavity.

A hiatal hernia may allow stomach acid and juices to back up into the esophagus (acid reflux). This can cause a feeling of burning, warmth, heat, or pain behind the breastbone. This feeling may often occur after you eat, soon after you lie down, or when you bend forward, and it may come and go. You also may have a sour taste in your mouth. These symptoms are commonly known as heartburn or reflux. But not all hiatal hernias cause symptoms.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Do not take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), unless your doctor says it is okay. Ask your doctor what you can take for pain.
  • Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicine. For mild or occasional indigestion, antacids such as Tums or Gaviscon may help. Your doctor also may recommend over-the-counter acid reducers, such as famotidine (Pepcid AC) or ranitidine (Zantac 75 and Zantac Maximum Strength). Read and follow all instructions on the label. If you use these medicines often, talk with your doctor.
  • Change your eating habits.
    • It's best to eat several small meals instead of two or three large meals.
    • After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down. Late-night snacks aren't a good idea.
    • Chocolate, mint, and alcohol can make heartburn worse. They relax the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.
    • Spicy foods, foods that have a lot of acid (like tomatoes and oranges), and coffee can make heartburn symptoms worse in some people. If your symptoms are worse after you eat a certain food, you may want to stop eating that food to see if your symptoms get better.
  • Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
  • If you get heartburn at night, raise the head of your bed 15 to 20 centimetres by putting the frame on blocks or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress. (Adding extra pillows does not work.)
  • Do not wear tight clothing around your middle.
  • Lose weight if you need to. Losing just 2.5 to 4.5 kilograms can help.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a heart attack such as:
    • Chest pain or pressure.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain that spreads from the chest to the neck, jaw, or one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Dizziness or light-headedness.
    • A fast or uneven pulse.
    After calling 911, chew 1 adult-strength aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • You pass maroon or very bloody stools.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or different belly pain.
  • Your stools are black and tar-like or have streaks of blood.
  • Food seems to catch in your throat or chest.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • Your symptoms have not improved after 2 days.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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