What Causes Heartburn?

Heartburn is a painful burning sensation that occurs in your throat or in your chest. The pain can be uncomfortable, or it can be debilitating. Some people experience heartburn after eating certain foods, during certain times of the day, or when they bend over at the waist or lie down. You can experience occasional heartburn, or heartburn can be a recurring issue for you. Heartburn is a symptom rather than a health condition, but heartburn can indicate a more serious health problem. Here’s some information about what causes heartburn and what you should do if you experience heartburn.

What causes heartburn?

The reason you feel that burning pain known as heartburn is because stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. Your esophagus connects your mouth and your stomach. There’s a muscle where your esophagus and stomach meet. Normally, this muscle closes and keep stomach acid in the stomach. Reflux occurs when stomach acids leak or pass through into the esophagus. 

Several things can lead to heartburn:

  • Certain foods can trigger heartburn including tomatoes, citrus fruits, chocolate, peppermint, peppers, garlic, vinegar, carbonated beverages, and fatty foods.
  • Caffeine can cause people to experience heartburn.
  • Overeating can lead to heartburn.
  • Stress and anxiety can cause heartburn.
  • Pregnancy may cause heartburn in some women.
  • Drinking alcohol can cause heartburn.
  • Certain body positions such as bending over, leaning over, and lying down make it easier for stomach acid to flow into the esophagus.

How do you treat heartburn?

Identifying, and then avoiding, the things that trigger your heartburn can help prevent heartburn. If you experience heartburn after eating too much, eat smaller portions. If spicy peppers cause heartburn, don’t eat spicy foods.

Wearing loose clothing, especially around the waist, can help relieve heartburn.

Over-the-counter medicines, such as antacids, can provide relief from occasional heartburn.

You don’t want to rely on temporary relief if you experience frequent heartburn, however. Regular heartburn can damage your esophagus over time, and regular or frequent heartburn can indicate a more serious gastrointestinal or digestive problem.

When should you see a doctor for heartburn?

Regular heartburn could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. It is possible, however, to have GERD without having heartburn, and to have heartburn without having GERD. It’s important to know when to talk to a doctor for heartburn.

You should see a medical professional if you experience heartburn more than twice a week, if your symptoms don’t get better after using over-the-counter medicines, or if your symptoms affect your quality of life. Your doctor will help identify the underlying causes of your health problem and help establish a plan to treat or manage your symptoms. This may include a referral to a gastroenterologist.