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Common Causes and Cures For Heartburn

Updated on September 2, 2013
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It’s a condition that affects more than 60 million American adults every month and about 25 million every day – that uncomfortable and sometimes debilitating burning sensation right around the area in your chest where your heart sits, otherwise known as heartburn. Fortunately, heartburn is not actually the sensation of your heart burning, but of your esophagus experiencing irritation.


What is Heartburn?

To reiterate, heartburn is not a heart condition, it’s a digestive condition. Furthermore, while heartburn may feel like someone has taken a match to your insides, nothing is actually being burned. The sensation you feel is one of irritation. Here’s what happens.

Normally, when you eat a meal, the little muscular valve located where your stomach meets the esophagus (known as the lower esophageal sphincter or LES) opens to allow food to pass into the stomach and then closes to ensure everything stays in the stomach, save for the occasional burp. However, in some people this valve opens too often or doesn’t close completely, which allows stomach acid to be released into the esophagus resulting in the irritation known as heartburn.

If you experience this irritation once a month, you have mild heartburn; once a week, you have moderate heartburn; and once a day, you have severe heartburn.

Heartburn Explained by Dr. Oz

What Causes Heartburn?

To understand what causes heartburn, you need to look at what causes the LES to relax and malfunction, what causes excessive pressure on your abdomen forcing acid to escape, and what causes an increase in acid production in your stomach. Below is a list of common factors that increase your chances of getting heartburn.

Foods and beverages that relax the LES

  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Garlic
  • Raw onions
  • Black pepper
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol, especially red wine
  • Caffeinated drinks like tea and soda
  • Peppermint

Activities that put excess pressure on your abdomen

  • Eating large meals
  • Abdominal workouts like crunches and leg lifts
  • Exercising on a full stomach
  • Lying down or bending over right after a meal

Foods and beverages that cause an increase in acid production in the stomach

  • High-fat foods
  • Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes
  • Tomatoes and tomato based products like ketchup, tomato sauce, and tomato paste
  • Organ meats like liver
  • Eggs
  • Aged cheeses
  • Sour cream
  • Caffeinated drinks like tea and soda
  • Coffee
  • Milk or buttermilk
  • Wine
  • Citrus juices



How Can I Prevent Heartburn?

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.” To that end, here are a few tips on how you can keep your LES from relaxing and your stomach from tightening up and thus prevent heartburn from ever happening in the first place.

Avoid heartburn trigger foods/beverages. See the list above. Not all of these items may result in heartburn – you can determine which ones to avoid by keeping a food diary of what you ate and how it made you feel.

Eat smaller meals. Instead of having three larger meals, spread your eating out over four or five meals.

Eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that you’re full. If you speed eat, you’re likely to consume more than you need, causing pressure on your stomach.

Stop eating about two to three hours before bed. Allow your food to completely digest and empty from your stomach so that acid levels are at a minimum by the time you lay down.

Avoid tight clothing. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on your stomach.

Elevate the head of your bed. This doesn’t mean elevating your own head by resting on more pillows – putting yourself in that position can actually cause more pressure on your abdomen, not less. Instead, place something under the bedposts near the head of the bed – about six inches of height is all you need.


Heartburn medication
Heartburn medication | Source

How Can I Relieve Heartburn Once I Get It?

There are a variety of natural remedies and nonprescription medications you can use to relieve heartburn symptoms once they appear. Just like everyone will have different triggers, everyone will respond differently to the various “cures” and you’ll have to find what works best for you. Below are some suggestions of natural remedies and nonprescription medications that can help relieve heartburn. These suggestions are not meant to take the place of professional medical advice. It’s always best to talk to your doctor before trying any treatment plan.


Natural Remedies

Chew some gum. This not only stimulates saliva production, which acts as an acid buffer and coats the lining of the esophagus, it causes you to swallow more, which can help push the acids back down.

Chew some raisins. Note that I didn’t say swallow. Chewing raisins produces an effect similar to chewing gum – it causes more saliva production, which will help neutralize the acid in your esophagus.

Eat a banana – they’re natural antacids. Either dried or fresh should work.

Drink water with baking soda. Dissolve one teaspoon of baking soda into 8 ounces of water and drink it down. Be careful not to overuse this method however, as it may cause swelling and nausea.


Nonprescription Medications

There are a few different types of medications to treat heartburn symptoms: antacids, which neutralize stomach acid; histamine antagonists, which reduce the production of acid in the stomach; and proton pump inhibitors, which also reduce the production of acid in the stomach. Always consult with your doctor to determine which type of medication is best for you.


Antacids

  • Alka-Sletzer
  • Tums
  • Milk of Magnesia
  • Maalox
  • Mylanta
  • Rolaids
  • Pepto-Bismol


Histamine Antagonists

  • Pepcid AC
  • Tagamet HB
  • Zantac 75


Proton Pump Inhibitors

  • Prevacid 24HR
  • Prilosec OTC
  • Zegerid OTC


Heartburn may be a fairly common condition affecting adults, but it doesn’t have to be an accepted part of life. Being a little more mindful of what you eat, when you eat, and how you eat, can have a big impact on your ability to manage and prevent heartburn. However, if your condition does not improve with lifestyle changes or becomes more frequent, definitely don’t hesitate to seek medical attention.

Heartburn Frequency

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    • kathleenkat profile image

      kathleenkat 4 years ago from Bellingham, WA

      Wow, Peppermint is about the only thing on your list of heartburn-causing foods that I DON'T eat regularly. No wonder I get heartburn a lot!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very useful tips. You have mentioned causes, prevention and remedies of heart burn in an easy to understand manner. Thanks for sharing.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      Thanks for walking us through this most irritating ailment. Really enjoyed your suggestions for possible treatments and ways to deal with it.

    • GiblinGirl profile image
      Author

      GiblinGirl 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks Lipnancy. Glad you found it useful.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Goodness, me that is a long list of potential problem foods--most of which (with the exception of any meats), I love! Doggone it, anyway! Not fair! What's good for one thing (e.g., garlic/heart/cholesterol) is bad for another.

      Peppermint surprised me, though. I've always used mint for settling the stomach after sometimes eating too much--such as at a holiday feast. My preferred mint is in the form of the candy, "Junior Mints," from which I also get my chocolate 'fix.' LOL

      This was a well-done article--very thorough, even if somewhat discouraging. ;-)

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • GiblinGirl profile image
      Author

      GiblinGirl 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks Dzy. Yeah I was surprised by the peppermint too - although I think my preferred form would be the Andies Candies :)

    • tlkuhn profile image

      tlkuhn 3 years ago

      There are many good tips in this article about eliminating your heartburn symptoms.

      For more info, visit: http://myheartburnsgone.com

    • profile image

      Susan 3 years ago

      I've also found that if I have heartburn in the evening before going to bed eating an apple or pear sorts it, and I don't suffer anymore that night. Interesting what you say about saliva too as if I am woken in the night with burning I find I naturally have lots of saliva and swallowing it several times soothes the burning. If I need more then just expecting to have more saliva form by focusing my mind on my mouth makes it arrive - more evidence of the amazing connection between ourselves and our bodies.

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