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Charlie Sheen's hiatal hernia: What is it?

January 28, 2011|By Eryn Brown | Los Angeles Times
  • Actor Charlie Sheen gestures toward the media as he leaves the Pitkin County Courthouse after a sentencing hearing in Aspen, Colo., on Aug. 2, 2010. Sheen was hospitalized in Los Angeles on Thursday with severe abdominal pain.
Actor Charlie Sheen gestures toward the media as he leaves the Pitkin County… (Reuters/Rick Wilking/Files )

On Thursday actor, partyer and headline-grabber Charlie Sheen was hospitalized -- again.  This time, a friend said, it was because laughing too hard aggravated the actor's hiatal hernia, causing severe abdominal pain.  

So what is a hiatal hernia?

A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach bulges upward into the chest through the hiatus, an opening in the diaphragm that allows the esophagus to connect to the stomach.  It's very common -- more than half of people over 50 have it. Sheen is 45.

The condition doesn't cause any pain in and of itself. But under certain circumstances, having a hernia can allow food and stomach acid to escape back into the esophagus, causing raging heartburn (or perhaps, in this case, raging heartache for Sheen's long-suffering family, friends and associates).

Obesity is a risk factor for hiatal hernia. So is smoking. Friday morning, Wikipedia's "Hiatus hernia" entry also listed "Laughing too hard while being Charlie Sheen" as a risk factor (no medical citation provided).

According to, "persistent and intense pressure on the surrounding muscles, such as when coughing, vomiting or straining during a bowel movement or while lifting heavy objects" can cause a hiatal hernia.  Conceivably laughing could put such pressure on the muscles too.

Generally it's not hard to keep a hiatal hernia in check, for most people.  Taking acid-reducing drugs such as antacids, H-2-receptor blockers like Pepcid, or proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec can help.  Also, lifestyle adjustments such as avoiding alcohol, limiting fatty foods and reducing stress are recommended.

RELATED: KTLA's report on Sheen's hospitalization 

RELATED: More on hiatal hernia.

RELATED: Charlie Sheen out of the hospital, recovering from laughing too hard?

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