The diaphragm and a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter usually prevent heartburn. However, this muscle can sometimes relax and leave the food pipe unprotected from stomach acid.
Heartburn is experienced when stomach acid comes into contact with the lining of the food pipe. This can cause the following symptoms:
- A feeling of burning behind the breastbone, neck, and throat
- Taste changes
- Voice hoarseness that is made worse by eating, leaning forward, and lying down
The discomforts of heartburn can last for several hours and may progress into a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. GERD can cause frequent heartburn, food sticking, damage to the food pipe, blood loss, and loss of weight.
There are some things that people can do to prevent and treat the symptoms of heartburn. Not all remedies work or are safe for everyone, however. It is important for people to speak with their doctor about the best remedy for them.
Simple remedies for heartburn relief include:
Heartburn may progress into a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
- Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
- Wearing loose fitting clothing to avoid unnecessary pressure on the stomach
- Considering prescription medications: People with heartburn should also speak with their doctor to see if the use of prescription medications is right for them.
- Losing weight: People who are in need of losing weight or are obese may want to consider a diet and exercise weight loss program. Each person reacts to these changes differently, however. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider about losing weight.
- Raising the head of the bed: There are many ways to raise the head of the bed to allow gravity to reduce the symptoms of heartburn. Placing blocks under the top bedposts, raising the bed by around 6-8 inches may work. Foam wedges can also be placed between the mattress and box spring to raise the angle of the head of the bed. Pillows are not effective in reducing heartburn symptoms.
- Trying over-the-counter medications: People with heartburn should speak with their doctor about over-the-counter medications to relieve their symptoms. They may be recommended to try antacids, acid reducers like famotidine or ranitidine, or acid blockers such as lansoprazole and omeprazole. Various antacids are available to purchase online.
- Using herbal preparations: The use of certain herbal preparations may also be useful. The Mayo Clinic report that licorice, slippery elm, chamomile, or marshmallow could help in treating the symptoms of GERD. It is important for people to speak with their doctor about potential side effects and drug interactions before starting any herbal supplements. VArious herbal remedies can be bought online.
- Trying acupuncture: Although there is limited evidence to support its use, acupuncture may be beneficial in relieving the symptoms of heartburn in some people.
- Relaxing: Stress and tension can wreak havoc on the body. Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation could provide the body with calming relief to some symptoms.
- Making some simple diet changes: There are certain dietary triggers that can affect the presence and severity of heartburn. People should try avoiding spicy or greasy foods, chocolate, caffeinated drinks like coffee, tomato products, garlic, peppermint, alcohol, and fizzy drinks.
People should sit upright for 3 or more hours after a meal to reduce heartburn symptoms. People should also eat smaller meals and avoid meals in the 2-3 hours before sleep.
When to see a doctor
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommend calling a doctor immediately if someone has any of the following symptoms:
- Large amounts of vomiting or vomiting that is forceful
- Green, yellow, or bloody vomit, or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- Difficulty breathing after vomiting
- Mouth or throat pain with eating
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
Factors that increase the risk of developing GERD include:
Both smoking and passive smoking increase the risk of developing GERD.
- Hiatal hernia
- Smoking and passive smoking
- Certain medical conditions including dry mouth, asthma, delayed stomach emptying, and scleroderma
- Some medications including those for treating asthma, allergies, pain, high blood pressure, depression, and insomnia
- Consuming irritants such as alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks, chocolate, and acidic foods and juices
Complications of heartburn may include ulcers, bleeding, and GERD. Changes to the cells in the food pipe may also occur. This can lead to a condition called Barrett's esophagus and a higher risk of cancer of the food pipe.
The food pipe can also narrow, causing a condition called esophageal stricture. Other complications include food pipe inflammation and breathing problems. Breathing problems include asthma, fluid in the lungs, coughing, sore throat, hoarseness, pneumonia, and wheezing.