What is heartburn?
Heartburn is a painful burning sensation in the chest caused by acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid travels from the stomach to the throat.
In addition, you may experience a bitter or sour taste in the mouth, a persistent cough or hiccups, smelly breath, bloating or feeling sick (nausea). Acid reflux can also affect your voice, making it sound more hoarse.
What causes heartburn?
Heartburn is very common. It can be caused by a number of things, including:
- obesity or being overweight
- anxiety and stress
- certain medications, like anti-inflammatory painkillers
- a hiatus hernia, which is a condition that causes your stomach to move upwards to your chest
Some people find certain types of food can cause or trigger the symptoms of heartburn.
What foods cause heartburn?
Foods that commonly cause acid reflux and heartburn include:
- high-fat foods
- spicy foods
You may be able to treat the symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn by avoiding these foods.
If you suspect a food that is not listed here might be causing your symptoms, try cutting it out of your diet and see if you notice an improvement.
How to get rid of heartburn fast (with medication)
A doctor may advise taking antacids for heartburn. Antacids are a type of medication available at pharmacies that can help treat the symptoms of heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux. Speak to your pharmacist or doctor for further guidance on whether to use these medications and how to get and use them.
To get the full benefit of an antacid, take it alongside a meal, straight after eating, or just before going to bed as this is usually when heartburn occurs.
Antacids can provide fast relief, but they are more of a temporary solution to heartburn. This is because they do not treat the underlying cause of heartburn and their side effects can become more severe with regular use.
Any side effects you experience, such as diarrhoea or stomach cramps, should improve when you stop taking the medication. You can ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
For longer-term relief from heartburn, you may want to make some changes to your lifestyle. This approach can offer more sustainable results and may be preferable if you are interested in treating heartburn naturally, without the help of medication.
How to get rid of heartburn naturally (with lifestyle changes)
You can improve heartburn symptoms or get rid of it completely by making a few small changes to your lifestyle. Lifestyle changes you might want to try include:
- eating smaller meals more often to help avoid overeating
- elevating your head and shoulders in bed (by around 10-20cm) so your head and chest are positioned higher than your waist
- lowering your stress levels
- losing weight if you are overweight
- quitting smoking if you smoke
- cutting out food and drink from your diet that can trigger heartburn
- limiting your alcohol intake
- wearing loose-fitting clothes that are not tight around your waist
- not eating close to bedtime (about three to four hours beforehand)
If you suspect a medication you are already taking may be causing your symptoms, do not stop taking that medication unless you have consulted your doctor first.
When to see a doctor for heartburn
While heartburn is not usually serious, there are some instances where seeing a doctor may be beneficial.
It is important to book an appointment with your doctor if:
- changes to your lifestyle or medications from the pharmacy are not helping
- you have other symptoms like food getting stuck in your throat, losing weight for no reason or being sick regularly
- you have had symptoms for more than three weeks
A doctor may advise taking stronger medication that is stronger than non-prescription varieties, like omeprazole or lansoprazole. Speak to your pharmacist or doctor for further guidance on whether to use these medications and how to get and use them.
Your doctor can also help determine if there is an underlying condition that is causing the symptoms of heartburn. Treating the underlying condition may help improve your heartburn symptoms.
You will not usually need to see a doctor to treat the symptoms of heartburn. For fast relief, a doctor may advise you take medication. To treat your symptoms in the long-term, there are a number of self-help methods you can try, like avoiding alcohol or making changes to your diet.
If you don’t find this approach helpful after three or more weeks, visit your doctor. They can check if you have an underlying condition and may advise you take stronger prescription medication.