Diaphragmatic Hernia: Definition, Causes & Types

Instructor: Justine Fritzel

Justine has been a Registered Nurse for 10 years and has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree.

You are probably familiar with the word hernia, but maybe not really sure what it is. In this lesson, we will learn what a diaphragmatic hernia is. We will learn about different types and what causes them.

What is a Diaphragm?

The human body is made up of many different components. For example, you have a chest cavity that contains your heart and lungs. The abdominal cavity contains internal organs such as the stomach, liver, and intestines. Dividing these two cavities is the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a thin wall of muscle that is dome-shaped between the chest and abdominal cavities.

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm helps you breathe.

The diaphragm is the main muscle used in breathing. On inhalation, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward to allow the lungs to fill with air. On exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes and moves back up to push air out of the lungs. But what happens if this dividing wall is compromised?

Defining a Diaphragmatic Hernia

Hernia is defined as an internal organ protruding through a wall around it. Hernias can occur in different areas in the abdominal cavity.

A diaphragmatic hernia is when there is a hole in the diaphragm that results in organs from the abdominal cavity to move into the chest cavity. To help get perspective on this, picture this. The chest cavity has your vital life-sustaining organs in it- your heart and lungs. Think about how that would look if your stomach, your liver, or your intestines moved up into your chest cavity! It would put pressure on your heart and lungs and hinder their ability to work properly.

Types of Diaphragmatic Hernias

There are two different types of diaphragmatic hernias which both have different causes. Regardless of the type, both require emergent surgical intervention to correct.


Congenital diaphragmatic hernias occur in the womb while the baby is still developing. Since the diaphragm hasn't formed correctly, the fetuses abdominal organs will move into the chest cavity. The lungs and blood vessels also don't develop correctly.

If the abnormality is discovered before birth, surgery may be done in the womb. If it is not found before birth, the baby will develop severe breathing difficulties after being born.

It is not clearly known why this occurs. It is believed that there could be chromosome abnormalities or a genetic factor. There is a possibility that environmental or nutritional aspects could also play a role.


Acquired diaphragmatic hernias are generally a result of an injury and not a defect during development. Injuries that can cause an opening in the diaphragm can result in the abdominal organs moving into the chest cavity.

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