Heartburn feels like a burning pain in the chest that is usually caused by acid reflux. Reflux occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach, causing irritation.
Despite the name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart.
In some cases, heartburn will go away with lifestyle modifications or non-prescription medicines.
Lifestyle changes to help make heartburn go away may include:
- Avoid foods that worsen heartburn symptoms
- Avoid overeating
- Don’t eat two to three hours before bed
- Lying down with a full stomach can make heartburn worse
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
- Raise the head of the bed six to eight inches using blocks of wood or rubber under two legs of the bed or a foam wedge under the mattress
- Don’t smoke
- Wear loose clothing around the abdomen
If lifestyle changes do not make heartburn symptoms go away, medications used to treat the condition include:
- Histamine blockers
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
- Can help the stomach empty faster
- Erythromycin has fewer side effects than prokinetics
If heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is severe, and symptoms do not go away with lifestyle changes or medications, surgery may be needed. Types of surgery to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) include:
- Endoscopic techniques
What Does Heartburn Feel Like?
The characteristic symptom of heartburn is burning pain or discomfort in the chest, stomach, abdomen, or throat.
Other symptoms that can accompany heartburn include:
- Acidic, bitter, or salty taste in the back of the throat
- Regurgitation of acid and undigested food back up into the throat or mouth
- Stomach pain
- Feeling as if food is stuck in the throat
- Sore throat
- Chest pain, especially when lying down or bending over
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unexplained dry cough
- Vomiting (may be bloody)
- Bloody or black stools
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bad breath
- Respiratory problems
- Tooth erosion
What Causes Heartburn?
The main cause of heartburn is acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occur when the lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes, resulting in the stomach contents backing up into the esophagus.
Lower esophageal sphincter weakness or relaxation may be caused by:
- Hiatal hernia
- Being overweight or obese, which puts increased pressure on the abdomen
- Pregnancy, which also puts increased pressure on the abdomen
- Smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke
- Certain medications