Symptoms and Signs of Heartburn

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/31/2022

Doctor's Notes on Heartburn

Heartburn is a symptom that results from acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The pain of heartburn is caused by acid contents of the stomach passing or regurgitating back up into the esophagus (swallowing tube or food tube). It is often not clear what causes this backup of acid into the esophagus. Lower esophageal sphincter abnormalities, abnormal muscle contractions of the esophagus, and slow or prolonged emptying of the stomach are believed to play a role.

Heartburn is itself a symptom of GERD. Other signs and symptoms associated with GERD include nausea and regurgitation, or the sense that liquid stomach contents are being passed back up into the throat or mouth. The pain of heartburn is a burning type of pain typically experienced in the middle chest.

What Is the Treatment for Heartburn?

Treatment for heartburn may include a combination of medications and lifestyle modifications:

  • Medications:
    • Antacids to neutralize excess stomach acid
    • Proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid
    • H2 blockers to reduce stomach acid
  • Lifestyle modifications:
    • Not lying down after a meal
    • Avoiding foods such as citrus fruits, and fatty or spicy foods that can worsen symptoms
    • Avoiding alcohol and coffee 

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.