Diaphragmatic Hernia

(Hernia—Diaphragmatic; Congenital Hernia of the Diaphragm)

How to Say It: Die-uh-frag-mat-ic hur-nee-uh


Diaphragmatic hernia is a hole in the diaphragm that is present at birth. The diaphragm is the muscle between the chest and abdomen. Organs in the abdomen move through the hernia to the chest. They can push up against the lungs.


This problem is caused when the diaphragm does not form normally in the fetus. It is not clear why this happens. It may be due to genes or the environment.

Diaphragmatic Hernia—Stomach and Intestines Move into Chest Cavity

Herniated Diaphragm
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Risk Factors

Problems in the mother that may raise the risk are:

  • Obesity during pregnancy
  • Smoking or drinking during pregnancy
  • Low intake of vitamin A just before or during pregnancy


Symptoms may appear after birth or happen later. They may be:

  • Problems breathing, such as fast breathing or grunting
  • A blue tint to skin—from lack of oxygen
  • One side of the chest that looks larger than the other
  • A belly looks caved in
  • Feeding problems


The diagnosis is often made before birth with an ultrasound.

In others, the doctor will ask about your child's symptoms a health history. A physical exam will be done. Images of the chest will be needed. This can be done with a chest x-ray.


Treatment depends on how severe the condition is. Emergency care may be needed after the baby is born. It may include close monitoring and help with breathing and blood flow.

Surgery will be needed when the baby is well enough. It will move the organs back into place and repair the hole.


There are no known guidelines to prevent this problem.


Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation


About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children


Bent D, Nelson J, et. al. Population-based validation of a clinical prediction model for congenital diaphragmatic hernias. J Pediatr. 2018 Oct; 201: 160–165.
Congenital diaphragmatic hernia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/congenital-diaphragmatic-hernia. Accessed January 15, 2021.
Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). Cincinnati Children's website. Available at: https://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/c/diaphragmatic-hernias. Accessed January 15, 2021.
Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Fetal Treatment Center website. Available at:
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Accessed January 15, 2021.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 1/15/2021

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