Heartburn is a common condition experienced by most people at some point in their lives. Heartburn manifests itself as a burning sensation or pain in the chest, and/or feeling sick or bloated. The occasional bout of heartburn is normal, however, when this becomes a regular occurance it could be a sign of a more serious condition. There are certain triggers for heartburn. Heartburn is usually brought on by certain foods and drinks, and one of the main causes is stomach acid flowing back up through the food pipe. Knowing your triggers is important to controlling heartburn.
Heartburn can occur day or night and be extremely uncomfortable, particularly for pregnant women. It can be treated with natural remedies, lifestyle changes and medication which help by reducing the amount of stomach acid which is causing symptoms of heartburn.
“Heartburn is not a serious condition and is usually nothing to worry about although it may be uncomfortable and painful. Occasional heartburn can be treated with over the counter antacids, or by avoiding certain triggers such as alcohol and spicy food. Regular heartburn could be a sign of a condition known as GORD which may need prescription medication to reduce stomach acid, which can cause the painful symptoms of heartburn. If you’re feeling a burning sensation in your chest, nausea, or bloating speak to your GP about heartburn.”
What is heartburn?
If you’ve ever had a burning sensation in your chest rising up to your throat you’ve more than likely experienced heartburn. For most people heartburn occurs occasionally after eating certain foods, but for some this is a regular occurrence that causes discomfort throughout the day and night. Heartburn is usually a symptom of stomach acid rising up through the oesophagus which causes discomfort in the chest and throat. Heartburn is often associated with acid reflux, and is a symptom of acid reflux. The burning sensation in the chest is one of the most noticeable symptoms of heartburn, however, chest pain can be sign of a number of other conditions. Other symptoms typical of heartburn include:
- A sour or salty taste at the back of the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling bloated
- Feeling sick
- Burping or hiccuping
- Pressure behind the breast bone
Most people experience the occasional bout of heartburn but when this becomes more frequent it is a condition known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
What is GORD?
GORD is similar to acid reflux in that it occurs when stomach acid makes its way up through the oesophagus when a muscle in the stomach is weakened. People with GORD may experience heartburn regularly and you should see a GP if you have symptoms several times a week. For some, over the counter medication may not be enough to ease the symptoms of GORD and it may require prescription medication.
What causes heartburn?
Most people who have heartburn are not usually too worried about what is happening to their body or why it is happening. Many might put the cause down to food that has irritated them or they may have eaten too fast, when in fact, there may be an underlying health condition causing heartburn. A lot of the time, there is no reason why a person might get heartburn, but in most cases acid reflux is the cause.
Acid reflux is a condition where stomach acid makes its way up through the food pipe and into the throat, and it’s this action which causes the burning sensation in the chest. Acid from the stomach escapes when the valve at the entrance of the stomach known as the lower esophageal sphincter muscle (LES) is open for too long or does not fully close. This valve needs to open and close to let food pass through, but when there is a problem with this valve the contents of the stomach can make its way back up the oesophagus.
Acid reflux can also be caused by a hiatus hernia when part of the stomach moves into the chest because of a gap in the diaphragm. This can cause symptoms of acid reflux such as heartburn.
Other causes or triggers of heartburn include:
- Some food and drink such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate, fatty and spicy foods
- Being overweight
- Stress and anxiety
- Medication such as anti-inflammatory painkillers (ibuprofen)
Heartburn and pregnancy
Many women will experience heartburn more during pregnancy because of hormonal changes and the baby pressing against the stomach. It is particularly common during the third trimester and can be even more uncomfortable for pregnant women.
Heartburn does not affect the baby and is not dangerous, but is extremely uncomfortable and may need some relief medication that is safe to take during pregnancy if the heartburn is persistent. If you’re pregnant you should speak to your GP first before taking medication.
Avoiding the triggers is also a way of preventing heartburn and needing to take medication.
How to treat/prevent heartburn
The unpleasant pain of heartburn can be easily relieved with medication or natural remedies, and changes to your lifestyle and diet. Food is one of the leading causes of heartburn so it’s important to avoid eating the trigger foods such as chocolate, spicy foods, and fatty, greasy and fried foods. You should also try to reduce your alcohol and caffeine consumption or cut it out of your diet completely to reduce the occurence of heartburn. Overeating food can also cause heartburn as your belly becomes bloated, putting pressure on the stomach and the LES, meaning it cannot close properly and stomach acid can escape up into the oesophagus. To avoid becoming too bloated try not to overeat, instead reduce your portion sizes and have small, frequent meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals.
Being overweight can also put pressure on your stomach so losing the weight will ease heartburn. Wearing tight clothing around your stomach can also force acid out through the valve and into the oesophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest and other unpleasant symptoms of heartburn. Wear loose clothing around this area of the body to prevent unnecessary heartburn.
Smoking causes many health problems and certainly doesn’t help with heartburn. It can cause or worsen this condition, so for the many health benefits, including stopping heartburn you should quit smoking.
Heartburn at night
Experiencing heartburn throughout the day is uncomfortable and can hinder normal daily activities, however, some people also experience heartburn at night which can be debilitating as lack of sleep also has its problems. To prevent heartburn happening at night try all of the above as well as not eating before you go to bed and eat a light meal early on in the evening. To help stop acid travelling back up the oesophagus at night keep your head raised slightly with pillows or raise the head end of the mattress. You should also stay elevated for at least 2-3 hours after eating as lying down can prompt heartburn.
Natural remedies for heartburn
As well as making changes to your lifestyle and eating habits, there are some natural remedies which are thought to relieve the symptoms of heartburn. Ginger has been used for centuries to ease nausea, and since sickness and nausea are symptoms of heartburn, it’s well worth adding ginger to your food and drink to ease heartburn.
Neutralizing stomach acid is one way of controlling bouts of heartburn and there are some at home remedies to help with this. Apple cider vinegar, a solution of baking soda and water, and even chewing gum are all thought to reduce stomach acid, the main culprit in causing symptoms of heartburn. The action of chewing gum stimulates saliva production and saliva dilutes stomach acid.
Medication for heartburn
Natural remedies don’t always work for everyone and may not be as effective as medication in calming heartburn. Most medication for heartburn works by inhibiting acid production in the stomach, and these are known as proton pump inhibitors. This type of medication is used when heartburn is regular such as in cases of GORD.
They are often fast acting and relieve the pain of heartburn effectively. For occasional bouts of heartburn, there are some over the counter antacids which are taken when the symptoms are happening or when you know it’s about to happen.
Prescription heartburn medications available at Doctor-4-U include:
- Zoton FasTab
The best method of treating heartburn is getting to know your triggers to prevent it from occurring in the first place. However, this is easier said than done and when heartburn does strike, medication may be needed. If you’ve been diagnosed with GORD, you can buy prescription medication online at Doctor-4-U once you have been deemed suitable to take a particular heartburn medication by our GMC registered online doctors. To do this simply fill out a medical questionnaire which will be reviewed by our doctors.
Some people may not be suitable to take proton pump inhibitors, particularly if you are allergic to this type of medication, or if you are taking medication that contains nelfinavir (used for HIV infection). Certain health conditions may also prevent you from taking this medication such as problems with the liver or kidneys, and if you’re taking other medication this will need to be reviewed to see if proton pump inhibitors interact with your medication.