Managing Heartburn

Heartburn occurs when stomach contents back up through your esophagus, which is the tube that goes from your mouth to your stomach. You may sometimes taste food or fluid in the back of your mouth, and the stomach acid that comes with it can cause a burning sensation. It is a common problem that can occur at any age, but frequent heartburn can damage your esophagus. Frequent heartburn is usually referred to as Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD.

What causes heartburn?

Although the cause may sometimes be unknown, there are a variety of factors that can trigger heartburn, including:

  • Overeating
  • Smoking
  • Eating too quickly
  • Eating while lying down, or lying down too soon after eating
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Being obese or overweight
  • Certain medications
  • Pregnancy

How should I treat heartburn?

Medication is sometimes necessary, but there are also changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle that may reduce your symptoms:

  • Lose weight, if you are overweight.
  • Do not wear tight clothing, especially across your stomach.
  • Do not lie down for a few hours after eating.
  • Avoid eating in the two to three hours before bedtime.
  • Sleep with your head and chest elevated by raising the head of your bed by four to six inches or lying on special wedge pillows.
  • Avoid large meals, especially meals that are high in fat and protein.
  • Take your time with meals. Sit down to eat and eat slowly.
  • Keep track of your diet and symptoms. This might help you identify foods that cause problems.
  • If you are a smoker, stop.
  • Limit foods that cause symptoms. These are different for everyone, but common culprits are:
    • Acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes
    • Spicy food
    • Onions or garlic
    • Chocolate
    • Greasy or fried food
    • Caffeine and alcohol
    • Mints or mint-flavored products
    • Carbonated drinks

Frequent heartburn can cause serious complications if left untreated. If you have heartburn often, it is important to see your doctor for proper treatment.