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Heartburn: Everything you need to know

Heartburn is a common problem that acid reflux causes, a disease in which some of the contents of the stomach are forced back into the esophagus. This produces a pain that burns in the lower chest.

The gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is called persistent acid reflux which occurs more than twice a week. When stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, the pipe that brings food from the mouth to the stomach, heartburn is felt. Heartburn is one GERD symptom.

At least 15 million Americans suffer heartburn every day, according to figures from the American College of Gastroenterology.

Fast facts on heartburn:

  • Causes include diet, obesity, and lack of exercise.
  • The primary symptom is a burning sensation in the throat or chest from stomach acid.
  • In many cases, heartburn has little bearing on overall health.
  • There are many treatments, including PPI medications (proton-pump inhibitors).


There are many causes of heartburn, including obesity and smoking.
There are many causes of heartburn, including obesity and smoking.

Occasional heartburn is common, and is rarely a major cause of concern.

Chronic acid reflux contributes to the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or GORD) and can have serious health consequences and suggest other underlying health issues.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is seen in people of all ages and often caused by lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking, and poor exercise levels.

For more information on the causes of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) see here.


Heartburn Symptoms include a burning sensation in the middle of the chest.
Symptoms include a burning sensation in the middle of the chest.

Most sufferers find the signs of heartburn fairly obvious. The most common is a sensation of warmth or heat caused by the stomach acid, often burning in the chest and throat.

Additional symptoms include:

  • burning sensation in the middle of the chest.
  • rising pain, possibly reaching the jaw.
  • burning and indigestion-like pain.
  • foul, acrid taste in the mouth.

If a person regularly experiences acid reflux symptoms, they should seek further examination with their doctor, who may refer them to a gastroenterologist– a specialist in gut medicine — for further investigation. Learn more about GERD.


Reducing the development of stomach acid is the primary treatment for chronic heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Lifestyle treatments may help to prevent heartburn or to reduce it.

Suggestions gathered by researchers from physicists include:

  • following a healthful diet, with a limited fat intake
  • avoid eating before lying down and sit up straight while eating
  • avoiding heavy lifting and straining
  • monitoring and avoiding triggers, such as alcohol, caffeine, spicy food, full cream milk, gassy foods, such as soft drinks, and acidic food, such as tomato, lemon, or orange juices
  • reducing weight, if appropriate
  • avoiding smoking
  • keeping fit through exercise
  • eating small meals, more often
  • having a review of existing medications

Job has not supported all of these. If they are, they might mean fewer people need to take medication.

During pregnancy

Heartburn and indigestion, due to hormonal changes and the baby rubbing against the stomach, are normal during pregnancy.

There are improvements in diet and lifestyle which can often help ease the symptoms.

The American Association of Pregnancies suggests:

  • eating five to six small meals throughout the day
  • not lying down within an hour of eating
  • avoiding fatty and spicy foods

It may help eat some yoghurt or drink some milk before eating, maybe with a spoonful of honey in it.


Aside from changes in lifestyle, heartburn can be minimized by using medications like:

  • antacids
  • proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs)
  • histamine-2 blockers

However, these can have adverse effects.


Lifestyle or behavioral changes can reduce or improve the symptoms of heartburn. Write more on Lifestyle Prevention. Our acid reflux page contains more detailed information on all of the topics introduced here.

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