Expert Blogs | Diet & Nutrition
How to Fight Heartburn
photo of mature woman with chest pain

That burning sensation in the center of your chest – it’s an awful feeling! Unfortunately, heartburn (also known as acid indigestion or gastroesophageal reflux) is also pretty common. Want to feel better? Here are some steps to take in the moment and ways to prevent it from happening again.

What Causes Heartburn?

Heartburn occurs when acidic digestive juices in your stomach splash up into your esophagus, the passageway between your throat and stomach. Your stomach has a special lining that protects it from those acids, but your esophagus doesn’t. That can cause an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest, and possibly a sour taste in your mouth.

In some people, this happens because the valve between the esophagus and stomach (called the lower esophageal sphincter) isn’t working properly. Normally that valve seals shut after opening. But it can become relaxed and not close tightly, letting juices escape your stomach and seep up into the esophagus.

Are Some People More Prone to Heartburn?

Yes. A few things can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax. Those include being overweight or obese, smoking, and being pregnant (because of hormonal changes). Having a hiatal hernia also puts you at greater risk for heartburn. Some medications up your odds too, like NSAIDs, some asthma medicines, calcium channel blockers, and tricyclic antidepressants.

Which Foods Make Heartburn Worse?

Some foods and drinks trigger more of those acidic juices to form. These include caffeine and carbonated drinks, alcohol, spicy or greasy foods, chocolate, mint, tomatoes and tomato products, and citrus fruits.

What Can I Do to Prevent Heartburn?

If you’re experiencing heartburn, there are a few things to try:

  • Avoid overeating. Instead, eat smaller, more frequent meals (every 2-3 hours). An overfull belly can cause that sphincter to become more relaxed.
  • Take an after-meal walk. That may help keep the juices down in the stomach where they belong.
  • Don’t eat dinner right before bed (or take an after-lunch nap). When you do sleep, try elevating your head. Let gravity help keep those stomach juices from splashing up.

Can I Take Medicine for Heartburn?

Yes. Antacids and other medicines may help relieve your symptoms. But some can interact with other medications you may be taking, so talk to your doctor first.

Is Heartburn Dangerous?

Not necessarily. While it may be painful, occasional, garden-variety heartburn isn’t harmful. But if your heartburn is persistent, it may be a sign of a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can cause more serious problems if untreated. So talk to your doctor, who can do tests to check for damage.

Also, keep in mind that heartburn can be a symptom of other issues, including a stomach ulcer and even a heart attack.




Photo Credit: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Science Photo Library via Getty Images

Tell us what you think of this post?
0 Like
0 Sad
0 Cheered up
0 Empowered
0 Care
WebMD Expert Blog © 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD

Registered dietitian

Sally Kuzemchak is a registered dietitian in Columbus, Ohio. An award-winning reporter and writer, Sally has been published in magazines such as Health, Family Circle, and Eating Well and is an Advisor to Parents magazine. She is the author of the book The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She blogs at Real Mom Nutrition, a "no-judgments" zone all about feeding families.

Latest Blog Posts From Sally Kuzemchak, RD, MS

Best Foods To Prevent Constipation

Best Foods To Prevent Constipation

Constipation can make you feel sluggish, weighed-down, and cranky. Most people only experience it from time to time, but it can become chronic for others. It’s also more likely to happen as you age ...

Read more
15 Best Foods for Gut Health

15 Best Foods for Gut Health

It’s no secret that what you eat every day has a direct impact on your digestive system – and that some foods (hello, greasy takeout!) can make your belly feel worse than others. But certain foods have superpowers in the gut ...

Read more