Coconut Water: Ahhh-mazing for Hiatal Hernia Symptoms
This article is going with the assumption that you know what a hiatal hernia is and that you know you are the proud owner of this little nightmare. However, we will take a brief refresher course on what a hiatal hernia actually is:
What is a Hiatal Hernia?
When an internal body part pushes its way into another area of the body (someplace it certainly doesn’t belong), we call it a hernia.
The opening in the diaphragm is called the hiatus.The diaphragm, of course, is what separates your chest cavity from your abdomen. When working conditions are as they should be, the food pipe (esophagus) goes smoothly through the hiatus – taking food/drink from the mouth to the stomach. That’s in a perfect world. A hiatal hernia (sometimes called a hiatus hernia) basically says, “Not so fast, my foodie friend…”
When you have a hiatal hernia, the stomach bulges up into the chest through the hiatus. Pain? You betcha. Oddly enough, people with hiatal hernias have different levels of discomfort and even different symptoms. We’ll get to the symptoms in a minute, but it’s worth noting that seldom are two people’s experiences with a hiatal hernia exactly the same.
There are two kinds of hiatal hernias: Sliding and paraesophageal. Sliding hiatal hernias (such as my little monster) are the most common. The stomach and a section of the esophagus that joins the stomach “slide up into the chest” through the hiatus.
The paraesophageal hernia is less common, but much more serious. If you are unsure which type of hiatal hernia you have, I’d certainly recommend seeing a doctor. A paraesophageal hernia can be very dangerous.
Hiatal Hernia Symptoms
For someone like me, who has plenty of symptoms with their hiatal hernia, I’m amazed by the fact that many people have few to no symptoms. I kind of suspect, however, that there are people who DO have a little hernia monster of their own, but they assume their symptoms are tied to something else.
Here’s my personal story (shared in case you recognize your symptoms): About 8 years ago, I was driving home (eating a hamburger). Suddenly, there was a discomfort in my chest as though my bite of burger couldn’t quite make it all the way down the pipe. There wasn’t any choking involved – just a feeling that something was stuck in my chest cavity. I had never felt anything quite like it before and it kind of freaked me out.
A few seconds later, insane hiccups began – then the feeling in the chest went away… and the rest of the burger went back into the bag.
It was, probably, several weeks before it happened again. I remember that it was (again) a sandwich that caused the problem. This time the pain was a little worse. At this point, I realized that I had what my mom had… a hiatal hernia.
For about 5-6 years, it only acted up “every now and then.” The foods that caused flair ups the most were bread, rice, chicken, raw apples, and carrots. Anything dense began to spell trouble for me.
Like a lot of people, one of my main “regular” symptoms is fierce heartburn related to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Experts know there is a link between Hiatal Hernias and GERD, but one condition doesn’t seem to cause the other.
In addition to quite a few smaller episodes, I’ve had a couple of frightening, horrific experiences with my hiatal hernia. Each time, I was (as luck would have it) dining out. Food got stuck and simply would not budge. The first time, it was a chicken taco. I felt clammy, sweaty, and completely “on fire.” The pain was about an 8 on a scale of 10. I was unable to talk. Phlegm often comes into your mouth rapidly when you’re having one of these spells (or as I call it, “When my monster is acting up.”). The phlegm isn’t in any way fun, but it is what it is.
Inevitably, hiccups soon hit and they hit hard. But the thing about these guys is they actually bring relief. When they hit, I know that the entire episode will soon be over.
Another horrifying spell was while eating at a favorite BBQ restaurant. The pork didn’t make it all the way and all hell broke lose. This time (unlike any other time my monster has attacked), I had violent vomiting. Again, the shakes and clamminess accompanied the production. It was, if we’re being honest, the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Remember the two events above as the Chicken Event and the Pork Event – no, there won’t be a test.. but I will tell you what led to them.
During the pork event, after the hiccups ended, my husband got me a dish of ice cream and, I have to tell you, it felt like Heaven to my poor, sore, traumatized esophagus.
There have been other events, but none as horrifying as these two. Each event was preceded by certain things that brought them about, which is the point of this article – to help others with hiatal hernias reduce their own events.
How Can You Prevent Hiatal Hernia “Flair Ups”
The number 1 thing I want you to do if you have a hiatal hernia is to start keeping an accurate, faithful “Hiatal Hernia” journal. Record your flair ups, symptoms, and what you were eating and drinking at the time. Record your activity the day of AND a few days prior to the big event. I keep a “Hiatal Hernia Journal” on my iPad, in the notes and I’ve done so since July 7, 2014.
During the months of keeping this journal, I’ve learned what things cause me the most trouble and have even discovered things that pretty much invited the monster to run amok.
The things that have helped me the most are about as simple as it gets:
- I no longer lift anything remotely heavy
- I don’t “move” or “push” furniture around
- I don’t do certain yoga moves I used to love
- I don’t do an imitation of a sleeping bat.
Before a lot of the events over the years, I noticed that I had actually lifted something heavy the day of the event or the day before. I’m a HUGE bird lover and regularly buy a 35 pound bag of birdseed at the store each Friday. I’d pop it into the cart, pop it into my car, then pop it out of the car when I got home. This, inevitably, led to many hiatal hernia episodes.
Before the Chicken Event, I had actually hung upside down on an inversion table the day before. I had a horribly stiff neck that had been giving me fits for days, so I hopped on the inversion table and hung upside down for a minute.
My neck loved it and apparently my hiatal hernia took it as an invitation to pounce.
Before the Pork Event, I had moved furniture around that morning. I’d moved a bookshelf from one room into another and pushed a huge, wooden desk to another spot.
I look back now and think, “DUHHHHH….” but, at the time, I honestly didn’t expect that to cause issues.
I’ve also seen (thanks to my accurate journal) a correlation between flair ups and certain “yoga” poses, lifting trash bags, lifting large bags of cat food, and even carrying too many grocery bags in at once.
If you have a hiatal hernia, whether or not you have horrific symptoms like the ones above, you’ll help yourself out a great deal if you stop lifting heavy objects all together. I hate it, if we’re being honest. I hate not being able to take the trash out when it needs to go, I hate having to ask someone else to put birdseed or cat food into my cart for me – BUT I hate the attacks far worse.
Here’s the run down of things you need to STOP doing:
- Stop lifting heavy objects. How heavy? This would differ from person to person, but I’m really not sure you could be “too” safe or cautious.
- Stop lifting weights – that’s obvious, I’m sure.
- If you love yoga, use common sense. Don’t do any that involve lifting your leg above your head or “hanging” your head below your waist. Also, a lot of pilates moves and poses can cause big trouble. The “Planking” pose once caused a pretty big event for me.
- STOP Overdoing caffeine – caffeine weakens the area around the esophagus, and we need that area to be as strong as possible.
- Don’t even think of doing an imitation of a sleeping bat. Bad deal.
- Pushing furniture around can cause as much trouble as lifting it. Leave it where it is…. seriously, it’s fine there.
There have also been certain things that have helped me with handling my hiatal hernia.
Things that can help with a Hiatal Hernia:
- I’m not entirely sure why, but coconut water helps my symptoms. It helps with heartburn, GERD, and causes the entire area to feel better. I’m convinced it has a healing effect on the entire area.
- Aloe Vera Juice each day is also great. It doesn’t take a lot – just 1/3 cup is comforting.
- Eat small meals, frequently. If anyone gives you grief about it, you let me know – I’ll straighten them out. When you have a hiatal hernia, eating too much at one time is just asking for trouble. You know your body and you know what and how much you can eat. Listen to your body, not to other people.
- If there are certain foods that seem to cause you trouble, find alternatives. For example, I love apples but they aren’t… shall we say… a joy for me to eat. Now I just pop them into smoothies or eat applesauce. If raw vegetables give you trouble, steam them. I never met a steamed carrot I didn’t love.
- Slow your roll. Don’t eat fast -ever, ever, ever. That just begs the hiccups and pain to show up.
- Drink more water. Isn’t this particular piece of advice on seemingly every list in the world?? Maybe it’s for a good reason – who knows what all drinking more water may cure! In this case, it keeps your digestive system humming along and that’s something people in our boat need.
- Don’t eat when stressed. If you’re upset, anxious, or stressed when you eat, you won’t digest your food properly. Wait until you chill out a little, THEN eat.
- Sit up straight! Sorry to sound like your mom, here, but it’s very important to sit up straight when you eat. Slouching is a bad deal.
- Losing any extra weight helps when you have a hiatal hernia. Naturally, this can be a bit of a challenge when there are so many exercises that are “Don’ts.” Thank goodness for walking.
- Eat healthy. Certain foods “strengthen” the area while others “weaken” it. Leafy greens, corn, and potatoes strengthen while caffeine, coffee, tea, and chocolate (I hate it as much as you do) tend to weaken the area. I’ve cut back on these culprits, but haven’t eliminated them. Nor am I likely to – if we’re being totally honest.
Advice for when your Hiatal Hernia is Flaring Up:
- Remain calm. I know it’s difficult when pain and frightening symptoms are involved, but panicking is just going to make it worse… far worse. Mentally RELAX all of your muscles – particularly the ones involved in and around your chest and abdomen. Remind yourself that this will pass soon and focus on the feeling of relief that follows an episode.
- Free yourself! If you have on a bra, either take it off or at least unhook it. Where a bra “lies” or “binds” across the chest creates a nightmare for a hiatal hernia situation. Unhooking the device can actually head off a flair up. I’ve had times when I felt a little pressure, then unhooked and avoided a problem entirely. Obviously, this poses a problem in public, but shhhhh, I’ve learned to be as sneaky as the Fonz (Happy Days reference for those of you who are “whipper snappers.”). Try to always wear loser, non-restrictive clothing.
- Don’t eat or drink anything whatsoever until the pain or discomfort in your chest is gone. During the Pork Event, I tried drinking some tea and it only made things worse.
- Let people in your world know what’s up. Be sure your family and friends know about your hiatal hernia, as well as what the symptoms feel like. This will keep them from panicking or offering you a drink or, worse yet, patting you on the back!
- Be on guard. If you have (out of necessity) had to lift something heavy, be on guard for about a week. Each time you eat, begin doing so with the tiniest bite imaginable and never, ever, ever “lead” with meat. That is to say, take a bite of something soft, then see how that goes. If, after a few bites of soft food, all seems well, THEN take a small bite of meat. For me, personally, chicken and pork are my trickiest meats – oddly enough, even more so than beef. Rice can also be a trouble maker and bread is all but on my don’t touch list. Since I have to eat gluten free, that’s not a big deal for me.
- Never let your guard down. Whenever you’re eating a meal (or even a snack), always be mindful of each bite. Chew thouroughly, eat slowly, and always be mindful that you have a “condition” that requires special care and attention.That doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t make you ill, but it is what it is. You have a little monster that you don’t want to awaken – life’s a lot easier when he’s sleeping… so let him sleep!
Advice for dealing with heartburn, GERD, and reflux:
After I began following the guidelines below, my nighttime reflux completely went away. The heartburn is A LOT better now as well. In fact, is seldom shows up these days and, when it does, letting a papaya enzyme dissolve in my mouth gets rid of it.
- If your hiatal hernia is accompanied by GERD and reflux (these monsters run with a nasty crowd), eating smaller meals is going to help with these symptoms as well.
- As I said (commanded??) earlier, keeping a journal will help you find food(s) and drink(s) that cause issues for you. I learned that drinking coffee on a completely empty stomach put out a big welcome mat for heartburn. I also found that chocolate (too late at night) causes issues.
- Papaya Enzymes, taken after each meal, have helped me a great deal. I can tell a big difference when I take them immediately after a meal.
- Raise the head of your bed or, if that isn’t possible, sleep on several pillows. Elevating your head is a great way to prevent reflux.
- Stop eating all food several hours before going to bed.
- Again, coconut water is absolutely wonderful. I, admittedly, have no idea why coconut water has been so healing for my issues but, frankly, I don’t really care WHY, I just know it’s downright medicinal for me. I wouldn’t take anything for my coconut water and my enzymes.
One final thought:
Why do I refer to my hiatal hernia as my “little monster?” Because doing so allows me to:
- Keep things in perspective. Things could always be worse and the word “little” reminds me that, compared to the absolute hellions some people live with, this “little monster” is next to nothing.
- Keeps things light. I almost laugh each time I refer to him as my little monster and that’s the whole point. I’m always looking for my next reason to laugh have a strong aversion to things that are overly serious and gloomy.
- Keeps me in control. As long as it’s MY little monster, I’m the one in control.
- Fourthly? Well…it gives ME the last word!
~ Joi (“Joy”)… owner of a little monster who likes to keep him in his cage.