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Heartburn, or acid reflux, is very common among pregnant women, and its intensity tends to increase as pregnancy progresses.
Heartburn itself is not dangerous, though it can cause significant discomfort and lead to a loss of sleep.
Also, it is worth noting that the pain of heartburn can resemble that of HELLP syndrome, a severe form of the pregnancy complication preeclampsia.
With the right strategies and treatments, heartburn is manageable during pregnancy, and it usually goes away after delivery.
Below, learn about the link between pregnancy and heartburn and what to try to find relief.
Various factors can cause heartburn during pregnancy, including hormonal shifts.
For example, a rise in the hormone progesterone can relax smooth muscle in the body. As a result, the body may digest food more slowly, and the food may flow upward, leading to heartburn.
Also, the pressure that the growing uterus places on the stomach and other parts of the digestive tract can cause stomach acid to flow in reverse, causing heartburn.
This helps explain why, most researchers find, heartburn tends to get worse as pregnancy progresses.
Meanwhile, some antinausea medication may also cause or worsen heartburn during pregnancy.
Women who experienced heartburn before conceiving may be more likely to experience it during pregnancy.
It is important to note that a severe pregnancy complication called HELLP syndrome can cause symptoms that feel like heartburn, including pain or burning in the chest or pressure or pain in the upper stomach.
Some symptoms of heartburn include:
- a burning sensation in the chest, throat, or back of the mouth
- discomfort that gets worse after eating acidic, fatty, or fried foods
- an acidic taste in the mouth
- bad breath
- pain in the throat
- pain that gets worse when lying down
- trouble sleeping, as a result
- nausea and vomiting
Some women find that heartburn begins in the first trimester, improves in the second, and gets worse in the third. Others report that the issue steadily worsens throughout pregnancy.
According to a 2015 review, it is unclear whether lifestyle adjustments can help treat heartburn during pregnancy.
However, many doctors recommend the following strategies:
- keeping a food log and eliminating any triggering foods from the diet
- eating fewer acidic, fatty, or fried foods
- reducing caffeine consumption
- eating smaller, more frequent meals
- sleeping with the head elevated by several pillows
- sleeping in a recliner
Many medications can help with pregnancy-related heartburn. Over-the-counter treatments containing calcium carbonate, such as Tums, provide many women with temporary relief.
Various heartburn medications are available for purchase online.
Always check that a medication is suitable for use during pregnancy. Anyone who is unsure should ask a doctor or pharmacist before making a purchase.
When heartburn is severe, a doctor may prescribe acid-reducing drugs, such as sucralfate (Carafate), an H2-receptor agonist, or a proton pump inhibitor.
Another review from 2015 included a trial that compared the effects of sucralfate and lifestyle changes on heartburn. Most participants who used sucralfate experienced complete symptom relief, but the researchers caution that the potential side effects are unclear.
Also, this review looked into a trial that compared acupuncture to no treatment. While the effects on heartburn were mixed, the team found that the participants who had undergone acupuncture reported better sleep.
The review’s authors emphasize that no large randomized controlled trials have assessed the effectiveness of most heartburn remedies. This makes it difficult for doctors to make universal recommendations.
In addition, a 2017 systematic review found a higher rate of asthma among infants born to women who used acid-suppressing medication during pregnancy. The study’s authors caution that more research is needed to confirm the link. It is possible that heartburn, not its treatment, increases the risk of asthma in babies.
A pregnant woman should see a doctor or midwife regularly and describe any symptom, no matter how minor. This is because some serious conditions can mimic less urgent issues, such as heartburn.
It is especially important to notify a doctor of heartburn if:
- home care strategies and over-the-counter medications do not work
- heartburn is so intense that it disrupts or prevents sleep
- prescription treatment causes the issue to worsen
- heartburn medication causes any side effects
- other symptoms arise, such as high blood pressure, unexplained pain, or a change in the baby’s movements
- heartburn continues for several days after delivery
Heartburn is not an emergency, but the pain can resemble that of a severe pregnancy complication. Also, some conditions that cause heartburn can require urgent care.
It is best for each woman to talk to a healthcare provider about when they should seek emergency medical attention.
However, always seek urgent care for severe pain or if the baby stops moving. If it is after hours, call 911 or go to the emergency room.
Heartburn during pregnancy can range from a minor annoyance to a source of severe pain. Intense heartburn can also make it difficult to sleep.
Most women find that the issue goes away shortly after delivery. In the meantime, various treatments can ease the discomfort.
Ask a doctor about lifestyle adjustments, medication, and other ways to reduce heartburn and increase overall comfort during pregnancy.