Heartburn is a burning pain in your chest, just behind your breastbone. The pain is often worse when lying down or bending over.
Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm. Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn on their own with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications.
Heartburn that is more frequent or interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of a more serious condition that requires medical care.
Symptoms of heartburn include:
A burning pain in the chest that usually occurs after eating and may occur at night
Pain that worsens when lying down or bending over
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (esophagus).
Normally when you swallow, a band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach. Then the muscle tightens again.
If the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus (acid reflux) and cause heartburn. The acid backup may be worse when you’re bent over or lying down.
Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn in some people, including:
Tomato products, such as ketchup
Fatty or fried foods
Alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee or other caffeinated beverages
Large or fatty meals
Being overweight or pregnant also can increase your risk of experiencing heartburn.
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate help if you experience severe chest pain or pressure, especially when combined with other signs and symptoms such as pain in the arm or jaw or difficulty breathing. Chest pain may be a symptom of a heart attack.
Make an appointment with your doctor if:
Heartburn occurs more than twice a week
Symptoms persist despite use of over-the-counter medications
You have difficulty swallowing
You have persistent nausea or vomiting
You have weight loss because of poor appetite or difficulty eating
There are several ways to treat and avoid heartburn with lifestyle changes.
Weight loss/keeping ideal weight: Excess weight increases the pressure on the stomach, increasing the chance of acid reflux into the esophagus.
Quit smoking: Smoking interferes with the proper functioning of the lower esophageal sphincter.
Food control: Avoid foods that trigger heartburn like Fatty foods, fried foods, and some acidic foods (oranges, grapefruits, tomatoes) as well as spicy foods. Decrease the amount of food you eat.
Elevate the head of the bed: If you are experiencing heartburn at night, elevating the head of the bed will decrease reflux.
Alcohol: Alcohol can relax the lower esophageal sphincter.
Coffee and orange or other acidic juices are some of the beverages that can worse or trigger heartburn.