Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest that often
occurs with a bitter taste in your throat or mouth. The symptoms of heartburn
may get worse after you eat a large meal or when you’re lying down. In general,
you can successfully treat the symptoms of heartburn at home. However, if
frequent heartburn makes it difficult to eat or swallow, your symptoms may be a
sign of a more serious medical condition.
What Causes Heartburn?
Heartburn typically occurs when contents from the stomach
back up into the esophagus. The esophagus is a tube that carries food and
fluids from the mouth into the stomach. Your esophagus connects to your stomach
at a juncture known as the cardiac or lower esophageal sphincter. If the
cardiac sphincter is functioning properly, it closes when food leaves the
esophagus and enters the stomach.
In some people, the cardiac sphincter doesn’t function
properly or it becomes weakened. This leads to contents from the stomach
leaking back into the esophagus. Stomach acids can irritate the esophagus and
cause symptoms of heartburn. This condition is known as reflux.
Heartburn can also be the result of a hiatal hernia. This
happens when part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm and into the
Heartburn is also a common condition during pregnancy. When
a woman is pregnant, the progesterone hormone can cause the lower esophageal
sphincter to relax.
This allows stomach contents to travel into the esophagus, causing irritation.
Other health conditions or lifestyle choices can worsen your
- being overweight or obese
- consuming caffeine, chocolate, or alcohol
- eating spicy foods
- lying down immediately after eating
- taking certain medications, such as aspirin or
When to See Your Doctor
Many people occasionally experience heartburn. However, you
should contact your doctor if you experience heartburn more than twice per week
or heartburn that doesn’t improve with treatment. This could be a sign of a
more serious condition.
Heartburn often occurs alongside other gastrointestinal
conditions, such as ulcers, which are sores in the lining of the esophagus and
stomach, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Contact your doctor if you have
heartburn and develop:
- difficulty swallowing
- pain with swallowing
- dark, tarry, or bloody stools
- shortness of breath
- pain that radiates from your back to your
- sweating while having chest pain
Heartburn isn’t associated with a heart attack. However,
many people that have heartburn believe they’re having a heart attack because
the symptoms can be very similar. You may be having a heart attack if you have:
- severe or crushing chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- jaw pain
- arm pain
What Are the Treatment Options for Heartburn?
If you experience occasional heartburn, there are several
home remedies and lifestyle changes that can help alleviate your symptoms.
Lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, can help reduce your
symptoms. You should also avoid:
- lying down after meals
- using tobacco products
- consuming chocolate
- consuming alcohol
- consuming caffeinated drinks
Certain foods can increase the likelihood of experiencing
heartburn. These include:
- carbonated drinks
- citrus fruits
- fried foods
Avoiding these foods can help decrease how often you
If these treatments don’t improve your symptoms, you may
need to see your doctor. Your doctor will review your medical history and ask
you about your symptoms. Your doctor may also order several tests to find out
what’s causing your heartburn. Tests may include:
- an X-ray of the stomach or abdomen
- an endoscopy to check for an ulcer or irritation
of the esophagus or lining of the stomach, which involves passing a small tube
equipped with a camera down your throat and into your stomach
- at pH test to determine how much acid is in your
Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor will be able to
provide you with treatment options to help reduce or eliminate your symptoms. Medications
for the treatment of occasional heartburn include antacids, H2 receptor
antagonists to reduce stomach acid production, such as Zantac or Pepcid, and
proton pump inhibitors that block acid production, such as:
Although these medications can be helpful, they do have side
effects. Antacids can cause constipation or diarrhea. Talk to your doctor about
any medications you’re already taking to see if you’re at risk for any drug
What Are the Complications Associated with Heartburn?
Occasional heartburn isn’t typically a cause for concern.
However, if you get this symptom frequently, you may have a serious health
problem that requires treatment. If you don’t get treatment for serious
heartburn, you can develop additional health problems, such as an inflammation
of the esophagus, which is called esophagitis, or Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus causes changes in the lining of the esophagus that can
increase your risk of esophageal cancer.
Long-term heartburn can also affect your quality of life.
See your doctor to determine a course of treatment if you find it difficult to
carry on your daily life or are severely limited in your activities due to
How Can I Prevent Heartburn?
Follow these tips to prevent heartburn:
- Avoid foods or activities that may cause your
- You can also take an over-the-counter medication,
such as a chewable antacid tablet, before you eat to prevent heartburn before
- Ginger snacks or ginger tea are also helpful
home remedies that you can buy in many stores.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid alcohol and
- Try to avoid snacking late at night. Instead,
stop eating at least four hours before bedtime.
- Rather than two or three large meals, eat
smaller meals more frequently to ease the impact on your digestive system.