Heartburn and nausea are common gastrointestinal complaints and regularly occur due to indigestion.

Heartburn is also called gastroesophageal reflux. It has nothing to do with the heart. Rather, it occurs when acid from the stomach flows backward into the esophagus — the tube that connects the throat to the stomach.

People often describe heartburn as a burning sensation just behind the breastbone. Some people also experience a bitter or sour taste in the back of the throat. The effects can last for several hours and tend to be worse after eating.

Nausea describes the urge to vomit or be sick. The sensation may come just before vomiting or can happen on its own.

In this article, learn more about the link between heartburn and nausea, as well as possible causes of these conditions occurring simultaneously.

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Heartburn and nausea are both symptoms of indigestion, so they commonly occur at the same time.

Indigestion is also called dyspepsia. It describes a group of gut-related symptoms.

As well as heartburn and nausea, people may experience:

  • feeling full quickly while eating
  • feeling uncomfortably full after eating
  • feeling sick
  • bloating
  • burping
  • growling or gurgling in the stomach
  • gas

Indigestion is very common, affecting around a quarter of people in the United States every year.

When someone suffers from heartburn and nausea due to passing indigestion, it is not usually anything to worry about.

These symptoms are often due to eating food that is too spicy or drinking too much alcohol. If this is the case, the symptoms tend to go away over time without treatment.

If a person experiences the symptoms more frequently, it could be a sign of an underlying health condition. These conditions can include the following:

Gastritis

Gastritis means inflammation or swelling of the stomach lining from the acidic digestive juices in the gut.

Some people will experience acute gastritis, meaning it comes on suddenly and only lasts a short time. Others have chronic gastritis, which can last for years if they do not receive treatment.

Causes of gastritis include:

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection
  • damage to the stomach lining
  • the body’s immune system

Other symptoms include pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen, nausea, and vomiting.

Learn more about gastritis here.

Peptic ulcer disease

A peptic ulcer, or stomach ulcer, is a sore on the stomach lining. Long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, can cause a stomach ulcer. An H. pylori infection may also lead to the problem.

The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is a dull or burning pain between the belly button and the breastbone.

The pain is usually worse when the stomach is empty. It can come and go for days, weeks, or even months.

Learn more about peptic ulcers here.

Medication side effects

Some medications can cause side effects that include heartburn and nausea. These include specific antibiotics and NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen.

The medication’s information leaflet or packaging will usually list any possible side effects. People can also ask their doctor or pharmacist about bothersome side effects.

Learn more about the side effects of antibiotics here.

Pregnancy

Symptoms of indigestion are common in pregnant people.

Heartburn can happen at any point during the pregnancy due to fluctuating hormones affecting the muscle that keeps food in the stomach. This change can allow acid to move from the stomach to the esophagus.

Nausea is also a symptom of morning sickness, which is another common occurrence in pregnancy.

Despite the name, morning sickness can happen at any time of the day or night. A person may only feel nauseated, or they may also vomit.

Visit our dedicated pregnancy and parenthood hub here.

Stomach cancer

In rare cases, frequent bouts of heartburn and nausea can signify stomach cancer. Other symptoms may include:

As the American Cancer Society points out, most of these symptoms are much more likely to be due to a virus or ulcer than stomach cancer.

Learn more about stomach cancer and its treatments here.

Certain lifestyle and dietary modifications can help people reduce their risk of heartburn and nausea and lessen symptoms when they occur.

Things to do

The following tips can help people reduce the risk of heartburn and nausea.

  • chewing food thoroughly
  • eating earlier in the evening to allow ample digestion time before sleep
  • keeping a food diary, as this can help identify trigger foods
  • reach and maintain a moderate weight

Things to avoid

People can reduce their risk of heartburn and nausea by avoiding the following:

Anyone living with peptic ulcers, gastritis, or stomach cancer will likely receive a personalized treatment plan from a doctor or team of doctors.

Discover more home remedies and lifestyle tips for managing heartburn.

There are many ways to prevent or manage the symptoms of heartburn and nausea. These include:

Antacids

People who experience infrequent bouts of indigestion that last less than 2 weeks can manage the condition at home with antacids. They work by neutralizing stomach acid.

Antibiotics

If an infection is causing heartburn or nausea, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat this underlying cause.

Proton pump inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors, such as esomeprazole and lansoprazole, are effective at treating heartburn. They are available over the counter or with a prescription.

People can usually manage heartburn and nausea at home.

However, anyone who experiences indigestion that lasts for 3 weeks should see a doctor.

Anyone whose indigestion occurs with any of the following symptoms should also seek medical attention:

  • black, tar-like stools
  • vomiting blood
  • difficult or painful swallowing
  • frequent vomiting
  • unexplained weight loss
  • pain in the chest, jaw, neck, or arm
  • severe, constant pain in the stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • yellowing of the eyes or skin (jaundice)

Below are some frequently asked questions about heartburn and nausea.

Does drinking water help heartburn?

Most water is neutral, meaning it is neither acidic nor alkaline. Water cannot neutralize stomach acid but can aid the movement of food through the stomach into the small intestine. Proper digestion can reduce symptoms of acid reflux.

Some studies report that drinking alkaline electrolyzed water can also help reduce heartburn.

What foods and drinks cause heartburn?

Foods and drinks that commonly cause heartburn include:

  • spicy foods
  • oily and fried foods
  • alcohol
  • carbonated drinks
  • acidic fruits and juices

Are heartburn and nausea normal?

Heartburn and nausea are often symptoms of a gastrointestinal dysfunction, such as acid reflux. However, both are common and typically harmless. Many cases of heartburn and nausea will resolve independently and result in no ill effects.

Heartburn and nausea are both symptoms of indigestion and often happen together. While they can be painful, they are not usually anything to worry about. A range of over-the-counter treatments is available to reduce symptoms.

More frequent bouts of heartburn and nausea may indicate an underlying health condition. Anyone with indigestion that lasts longer than 2 weeks should speak to a doctor.