Medically Reviewed by: Hussain Abdeh MPharm: 2211840
Updated on: 01/07/2021
Heartburn can occur in people of all ages. While it is normally harmless, it is very uncomfortable and can be a constant problem for some.
Thankfully, there are various medications available to treat this problem. Heartburn can also be diminished by making certain healthy lifestyle changes.
This article will be taking a closer look at what heartburn is, what causes it and what you can do to stop it.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a relatively common condition. Although it has nothing to do with the heart, it does cause a burning sensation in the chest. It is caused by acid reflux, which occurs when a portion of the acid in your stomach forces its way back up the oesophagus.
If you find you have heartburn more than twice a week on a regular basis, it may be gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), which is when you suffer from chronic acid reflux. Heartburn also shares many of the characteristics and symptoms as Indigestion.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn is caused when the stomach produces an excessive amount of acid. This larger than normal quantity of stomach acid means some is able to flow back up the oesophageal tract, which causes the burning sensation and overall discomfort.
Many people will experience some form of heartburn throughout their life. There is no obvious cause of heartburn, in most cases it is caused by one of the following triggers:
- Fatty foods (such as fried and processed foods)
- Spicy foods
- Pregnancy (This is a natural occurrence and is more common during the third trimester)
- Stress and anxiety
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen
- A hiatus hernia (caused when part of the stomach bulges up into the chest)
In most cases, heartburn is triggered by food, by knowing what foods trigger your heartburn you can cut them out of your diet and as a result reduce the likelihood of experiencing heartburn related symptoms.
For more information regarding food and acid reflux, you can read our healpful guide of acid reflux and diet.
What are the symptoms of heartburn?
Heartburn is characterised by a burning sensation in the chest, roughly around the breastbone, and often up into the lower part of the throat. The stomach acid may also cause an unpleasant taste in the back of your mouth. Additionally, you may encounter a degree of stomach pain.
Other, less common symptoms include a feeling of mild nausea, hoarseness in your voice, or potential bloating in the stomach. If you experience these symptoms regularly, or they don't begin to naturally subside after a few days, you should seek medical attention. You will often find that the symptoms get more pronounced if you have just eaten something, if you are lying down flat, or bending over.
If you are experiencing symptoms on a daily basis, your doctor or pharmacist may choose to prescribe you with a widely used acid reflux treatment such as Lansoprazole 30mg tablets, which is fast acting and should help to ease your symptoms quickly.
How can I prevent heartburn?
Heartburn is a common condition and is often attributed to lifestyle. Poor diet, for example, can often cause heartburn due to the excessive amount of sugar, fat and salt found in junk foods. A great way to avoid getting heartburn is to have a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains. Try to eat foods that are known to help acid reflux symptoms.
What you drink can make a strong difference, too. Drinking anything acidic is going to increase your risk of suffering from heartburn – which means fizzy drinks, coffee, and citrus-heavy fruit juices are all prime causes. Where possible, substitute them with drinking as much water as you can, to dilute excess stomach acid.
It is important to know which foods trigger acid reflux so you can remove them from your diet.
There are other general lifestyle changes you can make to prevent your risk of suffering heartburn. For example, eating smaller meals on a more regular basis, rather than larger portions spread further apart can ease heartburn. Heartburn can often feel worse when you're lying flat, so try lying more upright.
Cutting out alcohol and smoking, if applicable, will help ease the symptoms of heartburn, as will increasing the amount of exercise you do. If you are overweight, losing some of the excess weight will help to prevent you from suffering from heartburn on a regular basis.
Simple heartburn prevention tips:
In some cases, heartburn can be treated/managed by implementing simple lifestyle changes.
- Eat smaller meals more regularly
- Sleep with an extra pillow, so your head is in a slightly elevated position. This makes it harder for stomach acid to travel up to your throat
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Know what foods trigger your heartburn symptoms and remove them from your diet, or eat them less often
- Try not to eat just before you go to bed
- Stop smoking
- Limit the amount of alcohol you are drinking
- Speak to a doctor if you think that certain medication may be causing your symptoms
What treatments are available?
If your symptoms are severe, you should always seek medical assistance as soon as possible - either from a GP or from a pharmacist. Your pharmacist should be able to provide you with several choices of treatment, depending on your circumstances and both the nature and duration of your symptoms.
Proton pump inhibitors
Proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medications are commonly prescribed for heartburn and acid reflux. Proton pumps are tiny substances in the lining of the stomach; they help the stomach to produce acid, which is then used to digest food.
PPIs work by inhibiting these proton pumps, which means that the stomach produces less acid. This reduces the symptoms of heartburn.
Common proton pump inhibitors include omeprazole, lansoprazole, esomeprazole and pantoprazole. Some forms can be bought over the counter to treat heartburn, although all strengths are available on prescription.For more information see our guide to proton pump inhibitors.