Veterans suffering from acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD), may want to pay attention to the symptoms of a hiatal hernia, because your acid reflux may very well be caused by one.
Hiatal hernia describes when the upper part of your stomach bulges through your diaphragm, the muscle separating your abdomen from your chest. Your diaphragm has a small opening through which the esophagus can pass, called the hiatus, into which the stomach will bulge.
There are two main types of hiatal hernias: sliding and paraesophageal. A slicing hiatal hernia is less severe, and occurs when the lower part of the esophagus and upper part of the stomach together push through the hiatus and into your chest. Paraesophageal hiatal hernias are more severe, and occur when a part of your stomach slides up into your chest and sits next to your esophagus.
Causes and Symptoms of Hiatal Hernia
Hiatal hernias are caused when muscle tissue is weakened enough that your stomach is able to bulge through. It’s never really clear why this may happen, but there are a number of risk factors that make a hiatal hernia more likely for some people.
Such risk factors include:
- Being born with a larger-than-average hiatal opening
- Changes to your diaphragm as you age
- Persistent, intense pressure on surroundings muscles, such as from pregnancy, obesity, coughing, excessive use from heavy lifting, or straining to make a bowel movement
It’s possible to have a hiatal hernia and not even know it. You may not notice any symptoms related at all. However, if your hernia is more severe, you may experience some of the following:
- Heartburn cause by acid reflux (GERD)
- Regurgitation of food or drink into your mouth
- Chest pains
- Upset stomach
- Bloating and burping
- Bad taste in your mouth
- Trouble swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Vomiting, possibly of blood
- Black stools, which is indicative of gastrointestinal bleeding
If any of these symptoms are persistent and troubling enough to warrant attention, you’re encouraged to contact your medical doctor right away.
VA Ratings and Benefits
In order to earn a VA rating and receive monthly compensation for a hiatal hernia, you’ll first need to have a current medical diagnosis, an in-service event, injury, or illness, and a medical nexus that connects your diagnosis to the in-service occurrence. If you’re experiencing symptoms of acid reflux, you’ll want to be sure of its most likely cause, since a hiatal hernia may not be what’s troubling you. Veterans with PTSD in particular may have GERD brought on my severe stress.
If you do, however, have a hiatal hernia, VA rates this condition under 38 CFR § 4.114 at either 10, 30, or 60 percent. The rating is based on the severity of your condition and may be subject to change based on your changing condition. If your hernia is causing your GERD, it’s possible to get a secondary service connection for that, too.
Assistance with your claim
Hiatal hernias may not seem to do you any harm, but if you have an active diagnosis and a reason to believe it’s due to an in-service event, seek disability benefits right away. Get the best start on your claim, or get help appealing your denied claim for hiatal hernia, by contacting us online or at 844-VET-LAWS now.