For most patients, learning they have a hiatal hernia brings a sense of relief. The symptoms, which include heartburn and difficulty swallowing, are often misdiagnosed as GERD or other ailments a few times before doctors truly figure out what's wrong. Once the relief of having a diagnosis wears off, though, you have to start making plans for treatment, which in most cases, means surgery. Here is what you can expect from hiatal hernia surgery and the recovery period that follows.
Who performs the surgery and where?
Hiatal hernia surgery is almost always performed by a gastroenterology surgeon. If the gastroenterologist who diagnosed you performs surgery, they will probably be the one to do your operation. But not all gastroenterologists perform surgery. If yours does not, they will refer you on to someone who does. This surgery is usually performed in a hospital as it needs to be done under general anesthesia, and because patients need to remain in the hospital for observation for a day or two after surgery.
How is the surgery performed?
Most hiatal hernia surgery these days is performed via a laparoscopic method. Your surgeon will make a couple of small incisions, no more than an inch long, in your abdomen, right near the bottom of your rib cage. Through these small incisions, they will use specialized tools to first push your stomach back down through the hole in your diaphragm. Then, they will suture your diaphragm closed so that the stomach cannot protrude through the hole again. Often, they will use some sort of surgical mesh to reinforce the hole that they close. The small incisions will then be sutured closed.
How long does recovery take?
You'll usually stay in the hospital for at least one day, if not two, after surgery. This gives you a chance to resume eating and using the bathroom under a doctor's care. Once you return home, you will need to rest fully for about a week. Most patients can return to work after two or three weeks, although you may need a little more recovery time if your job is very physically demanding. You'll need to stick to soft foods for about a month post-surgery. Your gastroenterologist will monitor your progress and let you know when it is safe to re-introduce various foods into your diet.
Hopefully, this article has given you a better idea of what to expect with your hiatal hernia surgery. Relief is ahead. Contact a gastroenterologist to learn more.