Heartburn is a burning sensation in the throat and upper stomach area often accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth. It is caused by acid from the stomach rising into the esophagus and is more likely to occur after a large meal or when lying down. Almost 12% of the world’s population suffers from heartburn.
“Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD,” reports Kevin M. Cronley, MD, a gastroenterologist from Gastro Health. “Heartburn can be a symptom of GERD but…you can have heartburn without having GERD.”
Causes of Heartburn
The esophagus is the pipe the food travels through to reach the stomach. The sphincter that is located where the esophagus and stomach meet is usually closed, preventing food and stomach contents from rising into the esophagus. It opens to allow a mixture of food and saliva to enter, then closes again.
If the sphincter is weakened or relaxed, stomach contents can enter back into the esophagus. This is called reflux. Stomach fluids can irritate the esophagus lining causing a burning sensation, called heartburn. If the fluids remain, irritation will get worse causing inflammation, pain, and discomfort.
Sometimes heartburn is worse during pregnancy because the hormone progesterone that is released during pregnancy causes the sphincter to relax leading to reflux and heartburn. Heartburn usually occurs after eating and can become worse from lying down or bending over.
Home Remedies for Heartburn
Heartburn prevention is the key to managing heartburn symptoms. But when heartburn hits, try these home remedies to reduce acid reflux fast.
Avoid Trigger Foods
Eating certain trigger foods causes acid reflux. Avoiding those foods will reduce the amount of acid in your stomach helping to reduce and prevent heartburn.
Eliminate trigger foods for 2 weeks to allow time for your stomach and esophagus to heal. Keep a food journal and take note of symptoms to help pinpoint exact foods that trigger your acid reflux.
Foods to Avoid
Known foods that contribute to acid reflux include:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Carbonated beverages
- Citrus and citrus-based foods
- Garlic and onions
- High-fat foods, fried foods, and greasy foods
- Spicy foods
- Tomato and tomato-based foods
When it comes to heartburn, you likely will try almost anything to get rid of it. Turns out chewing gum helps treat acid reflux. Here is how.
Chewing gum increases swallowing, which helps clear acid from the esophagus faster. One study found that chewing sugar-free gum for half an hour after a meal reduces acid reflux.
Plus, chewing gum increases saliva which can help neutralize the acid in your stomach making it easier on the esophagus if you were to have reflux. Remember to choose a gum that does not contain mint or citrus to avoid exacerbating reflux symptoms.
Drinking alcohol may cause an increase in acid production and can significantly increase acid reflux symptoms including heartburn. Though the actual relationship between reflux and alcohol consumption still needs more research, it is clear that alcohol can cause damage to the esophagus, which isn’t ideal for someone who already suffers from regular heartburn.
Like trigger foods, alcohol affects people differently. Keep a food journal of the drinks you consume and take note of heartburn symptoms. This will help you monitor what you’re taking in and learn what beverages you need to cut back on.
Avoid mixing alcohol with trigger beverages. For instance, orange juice and carbonated beverages are known to increase acid reflux and heartburn symptoms. Swap trigger beverages with less-acidic options like carrot juice, apple juice, or water.
Avoid drinking alcohol at least 2 hours before bedtime. Lying down directly after drinking alcohol may increase acid reflux and heartburn symptoms.
Elevate the Bed
Waking up in the middle of the night with heartburn is the worst. Lying flat on your back increases the risk of stomach fluids moving up into the esophagus. Consider elevating the head of the bed with a wedge pillow or a stack of books under the mattress. This will help keep acid in the stomach where it belongs.
It is also a good idea to conclude eating for the day at least 3 hours before going to bed. The less food in your stomach, the less chance you have of waking up with heartburn.
If home remedies just are not cutting it, over-the-counter products including antacids, H2 blockers (like famotidine), and proton pump inhibitors (like omeprazole) are your next best option. If you are not sure where to go from here, a healthcare provider can help you develop a plan.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
A burning sensation in your chest is remarkably similar to the symptoms of a heart attack and should not be overlooked. If you have persistent chest pain and over-the-counter treatments and at-home remedies are not helping, it may be time to speak to a healthcare provider.
You also should see a healthcare provider if you experience difficulty swallowing, unintentional weight loss, or vomiting of blood, Dr. Cronley says. Typically, symptoms of heartburn occur after eating or when lying down. Other symptoms can include:
- Burning sensation in the chest moving up toward the mouth
- Lump in the throat or feeling of fullness
- Acid regurgitation, sometimes accompanied by food
- Sour taste in the mouth, especially when lying down
- Cough or hoarse voice
- Nausea, vomiting, and burping
Seek immediate medical attention for chest pain that does not go away or changes from its usual pattern. Do not ignore the pain or hope it goes away, as it may be a sign of a heart attack. Acting fast can save your life.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Typical symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Sudden onset of symptoms, pain may be mild or severe and may come and go
- Pressure, squeezing, fullness, or burning in the chest
- Burning sensation or pain in the chest that may radiate to the arms
- Shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting
- Unusual tiredness (sometimes for days)
- Pain in the back, shoulders, and jaw
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
A Word from Verywell
While home remedies may relieve heartburn at the moment, it is a temporary fix. If frequent heartburn persists despite at-home and over-the-counter treatments, it may be time to see a healthcare provider.
Additionally, be aware that heartburn symptoms are similar to heart attack symptoms. If you experience chest pain as well as other signs of a heart attack seek immediate medical care. Acting quickly could save your life.