Many patients come to see me complaining about abdominal pain, and I use palpation to check their entire abdomen in order to make a diagnosis. Many cry out in pain or even scream when I press a specific point just below the sternum. And many have already received a doctor’s diagnosis of hiatal hernia and are taking pills for this disease.
A hiatal hernia is that the upper part of the stomach bulges up through the esophageal hiatus – the opening in the diaphragm – into the chest cavity. It’s a very common condition and many people with a hiatal hernia don’t realize it because they have few symptoms. But a large hiatal hernia can cause food and stomach acid to back up into the esophagus (acid reflux), leading to heartburn, nausea, belching, and chest pain. In the worst cases, chronic hiatal hernia can injure esophagus and even lead to severe esophageal stenosis or cancer.
Eastern medicine doesn’t categorize this disease in the same way as Western medicine. Instead, it recognizes two conditions which overlap somewhat with hiatal hernia. One is “Pain below the Heart Syndrome”, a specific type of upper abdominal pain, and the other is “Ye Ge”, a late and serious stage of dysphagia (difficulty swallowing).
The causes of hiatal hernia symptoms are mostly considered to be 2 kinds, which are dietary, emotional; Dietary causes are related to overeating, lying down after a large meal, eating rich fatty foods, and excessive alcohol consumption. These can produce lots of phlegm and Qi stagnation which turn to heat. This heat tends to come up and push stomach upward. On emotional factor, Stress causes diaphragm weakness, which can allow the stomach to move upward and to release more stomach acid. Eastern Medicine clearly explains how emotional stress can lead to stomach damage. Using its Five Element Theory, The wood element can become excessive when the patient represses anger. Anger causes them to tighten up and suck their breath upwards leading to pressure on the stomach and cause a hernia.
Hiatal hernia is not regarded by Eastern medicine as merely a local phenomenon, but as one symptom of an unbalance of internal organ system leading to functional or/and structural deformation. For example, aging or sexual indulgence may consume yin-fluids and cause Kidney Yin deficiency and dryness in the esophagus and stomach. And many who have a hiatal hernia also have an inflamed ileocecal valve lower down in their digestive tract causing gas to build up and creating pressure higher up in the digestive system. So though it presents with apparently excessive symptoms, such as heartburn, heat rising to redden the face, and vomiting, belching with gas, it is also a condition of basic deficiency at the same time.
Acupuncture can treat both root cause and symptoms of hiatal hernia, and herb formulas can also support the liver, clear out heat and inflammation from the GI tract, promote healthy digestive function, and relieve emotional anxiety. This requires treatment once a week for 2 to 6 months