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Heartburn relief: Simple remedies to put out the fire

  • The terms heartburn and acid reflux are often used interchangeably, but heartburn is actually a symptom of acid reflux.
  • Pay attention to the foods that trigger heartburn for you and eliminate them from your diet.

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid escapes into your esophagus. The muscular valve between your stomach and esophagus loosens or doesn’t completely close, allowing stomach acid to escape into your esophagus.

You may be very familiar with the symptoms of heartburn, that burning sensation just below your breast bone that can rise into your chest. You may also have a bitter or sour taste in your mouth. The terms heartburn and acid reflux are often used interchangeably, but heartburn is actually a symptom of acid reflux.

If you experience occasional heartburn, keep reading for things you can do to identify the cause and ways to prevent the burn.

Causes of heartburn

Heartburn is common and can be caused or made worse by lifestyle choices and physical issues, including:

  • certain foods and drinks
  • being overweight
  • overeating
  • smoking
  • stress and anxiety
  • pregnancy
  • certain medicines
  • a hiatal hernia.

Strategies for heartburn relief

Some home remedies and manageable lifestyle changes can help improve or even eliminate your heartburn symptoms. 

Avoid foods that cause heartburn

While heartburn triggers vary from person to person, there are several foods and drinks that are known causes of heartburn, including:

  • spicy foods: hot chili peppers
  • acidic foods: citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate
  • peppermint
  • fatty foods
  • acidic drinks, such as caffeine, alcohol, coffee, wine and carbonated beverages.

Pay attention to the foods and beverages that trigger heartburn for you and eliminate them from your diet.

Consider probiotics

An imbalance of beneficial bacteria in your gut can trigger your heartburn symptoms. Some people can improve gut health by adding gut-friendly prebiotics and probiotic food to their diet.

Probiotics aren’t for everyone and aren’t scientifically proven to improve acid reflux. Ask your health care provider before taking probiotics and dietary supplements.  

Don’t smoke

The nicotine from smoking and vaping can irritate your esophagus and may weaken the valve between the esophagus and stomach allowing stomach acid to back up into the esophagus.

Maintain a healthy weight

Excess weight may put too much pressure on your stomach, which in turn allows stomach acid to escape.

Practice portion control

Overeating can increase the pressure in the stomach, leading to increased frequency and or severity of reflux. 

Avoid late-night eating

Some people with heartburn have worsened symptoms when they lay down at night. Wait at least three hours after eating before bedtime to give your stomach time to empty itself. You can also try raising the head of your bed so your chest and head are above your waist. This helps prevent stomach acid from traveling into your esophagus.

Bottle of antacids spilled onto a table

Treatments for heartburn

Several treatments can help relieve heartburn, including lifestyle changes, over-the-counter medications and surgery.

Natural remedy: Use baking soda

You may find relief from infrequent heartburn with sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as baking soda. Simply mix ½ teaspoon with four ounces of water to help neutralize the acid. Note this contains sodium and should not be used if you are on a sodium-restricted diet. Check with your doctor if you are taking any prescriptions drugs, are pregnant or have a chronic health condition before using baking soda to relieve heartburn.

Over-the-counter medications

  • Calcium-based antacids can relieve infrequent heartburn symptoms.
  • H2 blockers (histamine H2-receptor antagonist) and proton-pump inhibitors reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach. They are stronger and longer acting, giving you longer heartburn relief. 

Over-the-counter heartburn medicine can temporarily decrease the frequency and severity of your acid reflux. Don’t take these drugs indefinitely without asking your doctor. If you have frequent heartburn for more than six weeks, or if these treatments don’t help relieve your heartburn, you should see your general practice doctor.

Heartburn surgery

Surgery is a last resort treatment for heartburn. Your health care provider may recommend GERD surgery for heartburn if medicines, diet modifications and lifestyle changes don’t offer heartburn relief. 

When to seek care for heartburn

Don’t ignore heartburn. Stomach acid can damage your esophagus and increase your risk of cancer. Sometimes natural remedies and over-the-counter medications are not enough to reduce your symptoms of heartburn, and prescription medications or surgery may be necessary.

  • Schedule a virtual visit with your primary care provider if lifestyle changes and medicines are not helping or if you have heartburn more than twice a week. Monitor other symptoms of heartburn, such as food getting stuck in your throat, vomiting or unintentional weight loss.  

If you have more severe symptoms, such as chest pain, dark-colored (coffee grounds) vomit, black stools, persistent vomiting, or feel like you are choking, seek care in the emergency room right away. If you have more severe symptoms, such as chest pain, dark-colored (coffee grounds) vomit, black stools, persistent vomiting, or feel like you are choking, seek care in the emergency room right away.  

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