Have you ever had a burning sensation in your chest after eating? Or felt as though acid was coming up from your tummy into your throat? If so, you have probably had heartburn.
Read on to learn what heartburn is and what causes it, which foods and drinks can help you feel better, and steps you can take to avoid getting heartburn. You’ll also find advice about when to speak to a doctor.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a burning feeling in the middle of your chest, which often gets worse after you’ve eaten. It can also give you a sour taste in your mouth. Heartburn is sometimes called ‘acid indigestion’.
Your stomach makes acid all the time, to help break down the food you eat. Normally, you can’t feel this, , but when you have heartburn, the acid travels up from your stomach towards your throat and mouth, and you can feel and sometimes taste it. In some cases, food can come all the way back up to your mouth after you’ve eaten it.
It may be a relief to hear that heartburn is really common. Lots of people get it from time to time, and often there’s no obvious reason. But there are several things that can increase your risk of heartburn (find out more about heartburn risk factors).
7 foods and drinks to help heartburn
If you have heartburn, you’re probably looking for ways to get some relief Here are 7 foods and drinks to try:
1. Low-fat milk or yoghurt
Milk can act as a short-term ‘buffer’ or barrier between your stomach lining and the acid, to provide some rapid relief if you’re having heartburn symptoms. Yoghurt can have the same soothing effect on the tummy, and ‘live’ yoghurt also contains probiotics – good bacteria that are involved in digestion. But avoid full-fat varieties of milk and yoghurt, as – fatty foods can make heartburn worse.
Ginger has a long history of being used to help with digestive problems. It is alkaline (the opposite of acid) and is known to help reduce inflammation, as well as easing nausea. Try grating a bit of fresh ginger into hot water to make a soothing tea when you feel that burning sensation coming on. (But don’t eat it in large amounts, as this may make your heartburn worse.)
If you struggle with heartburn, oatmeal (or porridge) made from rolled oats can be a soothing, easy-to-digest breakfast option. Oats are high in fibre, which is good for your digestion. They will also make you feel full for longer, so you’re less likely to overeat – something that can trigger heartburn. Just remember to make your oatmeal with low-fat milk.
Acids in the food you eat can play a part in causing heartburn. Many fruits are acidic, but bananas have a low acid content, so they are less likely to trigger symptoms. They’re also a good source of fibre and, like milk and yoghurt, are thought to coat the stomach lining and so help reduce irritation and discomfort.
5. Green vegetables
As with fruit, it’s a good idea to choose vegetables that are low in acid if you’re prone to heartburn. Green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, asparagus and sprouts are all alkaline. Plus, they’re low in fat and sugar, so are less likely to trigger digestive issues.
6. Lemon water
Lemon juice is very acidic , so if you have heartburn, you don’t want to drink it on its own. Buta small amount of lemon juice mixed with warm water and honey can be a soothing drink that helps neutralise stomach acid.
7. Apple cider vinegar
Some people find that apple cider vinegar eases their heartburn. It’s thought that it helps to settle the stomach by neutralising stomach acid. Drinking it at full strength could make symptoms worse, however, so mix a small amount in some warm water if you want to try it.
Are there ways to prevent heartburn?
Changing what you eat and the way you eat may mean you’re less likely to get heartburn in future. As well as eating a balanced diet to help to prevent digestive issues, try the following:
- eat smaller, more frequent meals
- cut down on fatty or fried foods, which are harder to digest
- eat lean meat and fish, as they're lower in fat
- eat high-fibre foods, such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, fruit and vegetables, beans and oats
- drink plenty of water to help your digestion
- cut down on tea, coffee and colas, as caffeine can trigger heartburn
Making some simple lifestyle changes can also help prevent heartburn. Things to try include:
- losing weight if you are overweight
- avoiding stress, if you can, and making time for relaxation
- stopping smoking
- not lying down for at least 3 hours after eating
When should I see a doctor about my heartburn?
For most people, heartburn goes away on its own, or after you make a few changes to your lifestyle. But you should see a doctor if you’re getting heartburn symptoms and you or anyone else in your family has had heart disease. If you have pain in your chest with sweating and problems breathing, get medical help urgently.
You should also see your doctor if you have:
- tried things to help your heartburn and it isn’t improving
- lost weight without trying, or you feel sick for no reason
- had heartburn for 3 weeks or more
Your pharmacist can also suggest medications to help with your heartburn, called antacids.
Should I be worried about heartburn?
Heartburn isn't usually something to worry about, and it’s quite common in adults. But you shouldn’t be getting it every day. If you’re getting it a lot, talk to your doctor.
- heartburn is very common
- some foods and drinks can ease or prevent heartburn
- making long-term changes to your diet and lifestyle can also help
- you can get medications from your pharmacist
- you should see a doctor if your heartburn doesn’t go away