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What is heartburn?

Woman in pale grey blouse holding her hand on her chest as she has pain from heartburn
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If you’ve ever experienced a burning sensation in your chest after a meal, or an unpleasant sour taste in your mouth, you’ve likely had heartburn or acid reflux.

Heartburn and acid reflux are extremely common and typically occur after eating - however the cause isn’t always obvious. It could be the food you eat, but it can also be brought on by various lifestyle factors from weight to stress.

Here we share the symptoms of heartburn as well as common triggers and how to treat it at home.

Acid reflux symptoms 

Common symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • Heartburn; a burning sensation in your chest
  • An acidic, sour taste in your mouth

Some people also experience additional symptoms such as:

  • Bad breath
  • A recurring cough or hiccups
  • A hoarse voice
  • Bloating
  • Nausea

Shop our collection of acid reflux treatments to ease your symptoms today.  

What causes heartburn and acid reflux? 

Heartburn and acid reflux are very common and sometimes there’s no obvious cause. However it’s thought that the following things can cause it or make it worse:

Alcohol 

Heavy drinking can increase symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. This could be because it causes the stomach to produce more acid, causes irritation to the oesophagus or because alcoholic drinks are typically sugary and carbonated; both of which are more likely to cause heartburn.

Spicy foods 

Spicy foods are thought to be more likely to cause symptoms of heartburn.

Caffeine

Some people find that caffeinated drinks including tea, coffee and cola cause symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn. However it’s not a definitive trigger for everyone.

Pregnancy

Many pregnant women report having symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. This is due to hormonal changes and the pressure of a growing baby against your stomach. 

Smoking 

People who smoke are more likely to have acid reflux for two reasons. Firstly, tobacco may relax the ring of the lower oesophagus that keeps acid in the stomach, allowing the acid to rise. Smoking can also reduce the amount of saliva, worsening heartburn symptoms. Find out more about the best stop smoking treatment an our in store Stop Smoking Service

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Being overweight

It’s thought that additional weight on the belly can cause pressure on the stomach, leading to symptoms of heartburn.

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Stress

Stress and anxiety can cause various unpleasant symptoms, including those of heartburn and acid reflux.

What is the difference between acid reflux and GORD? 

If acid reflux becomes a regular issue, you may wish to visit your GP because it is possible that you may be experiencing a more long-term condition such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

GORD is a common condition that is often caused by a weak ring of muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus. The weakness in the muscle means that stomach acid may pass up into the oesophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn and acid reflux, as well as bloating, nausea, a sore throat and bad breath.

You may wish to consult your doctor if the following applies to you:

  • You experience heartburn or acid reflux more than twice a week
  • Your symptoms do not improve with medication or they get worse
  • Heartburn or acid reflux wakes you up at night
  • You have difficulty swallowing
  • You have a persistent cough
  • You're persistently vomiting
  • You're vomiting blood
  • You're losing weight without trying or without any explanation

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How to prevent acid reflux and heartburn 

You may be able to manage or stop heartburn and acid reflux by making some simple lifestyle changes.

Do

Don’t

Eat smaller portions more frequently

Eat food that triggers symptoms

Stay at a healthy weight

Lie down soon after eating

Raise the head end of your bed by 10-20 cm 

Wear tight clothes on your waist

Practice techniques for relieving stress and anxiety

Drink too much alcohol

Eat a healthy balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet

Smoke

 

Treatment for heartburn and acid reflux

There are various treatments that can help to ease symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. Many are available over the counter at your local pharmacy including antacids or alginates which can help with short term symptoms.

If lifestyle changes and pharmacy medicines do not help with symptoms, or your heartburn reoccurs most days for more than 3 weeks, you should speak to your GP. They will be able to prescribe stronger treatments such as a proton pump inhibitor (PPI).

Common PPIs include:

  • Omeprazole: this medicine can help to reduce excess stomach acid, which causes indigestion and acid reflux.
  • Lansoprazole: this prescription-only medicine is commonly used to treat heartburn and acid reflux by reducing how much stomach acid your body makes.

Read our tips and advice on other common conditions including how to manage bloating, the causes of irritable bowel syndrome and how to treat food poisoning.

References

​​www.nhs.uk/conditions/heartburn-and-acid-reflux
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2880354
www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/indigestion-and-heartburn
www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/features/heartburn-tobacco-connection
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15184707
www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/gastro-oesophageal-reflux-disease-gord