Heartburn, also known as pyrosis or cardialgia, is a burning sensation in your chest right behind your sternum.
It affects an estimated 60 million Americans at least once a month.
While most people can manage or reduce heartburn symptoms with over the counter meds and lifestyle changes, for some it is a bit more serious.
Let’s take a closer look and review some simple home remedies for heartburn to help reduce your symptoms.
What Causes Heartburn?
Heartburn is caused when the acid in your stomach backs up into the esophagus resulting in a burning sensation.
How does this happen?
Typically when we eat, a band of muscles, known as the esophageal sphincter, around the bottom of our esophagus relaxes to allow food passage into the stomach where a highly acidic mixture will begin to break it down.
However, when this band of muscles doesn’t tighten or stay closed properly, stomach acid can flow back into the esophagus.
And since your esophagus does not have the same protective lining as your stomach, this back flow results in heartburn.
A few things that can trigger symptoms include:
- Eating citrus fruits or spicy foods
- Consuming coffee or alcohol
- Taking certain medications (e.g. NSAIDS or Aspirin)
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Bending over or lying down after eating
What Does Heartburn Feel Like?
The most common symptom of heartburn is a burning sensation in the middle of the chest caused by your stomach acid flowing back up into the esophagus.
This feeling can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
In severe cases the pain is confused with symptoms of a heart attack. In fact, even experienced doctors sometimes have difficulty telling the difference without running a few tests.
That is why if you show up in the ER with heartburn related chest pain, oftentimes they will first run testing to rule out a heart attack.
How Long Does Heartburn Last
The burning sensation that characterizes heartburn can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the underlying cause.
If the heartburn was triggered by food or a recent meal, you will usually feel relief once the meal has been digested.
Additionally, it may disappear for a short period of time and then reappear when you lay down or bend over. Bending over or lying flat can trigger heartburn because when we bend over or lie down, gravity does not work in our favor to keep acid inside the stomach.
When heartburn is extreme or due to an underlying condition, it may require medical treatment.
There are several options to relieve heartburn without a prescriptions.
Antacids are the most accessible (Tums, Alka Seltzer, Rolaids, etc.) and do not require a prescription. These help neutralize stomach acid and can provide quick relief for mild cases of heartburn.
H-2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs) are another common treatment option (Pepcid AC, Zantac, etc.) and are also available without a prescription. They work by reducing the amount of acid secreted by the glands in your stomach. These medicines take a little longer than antacids to work but provide longer relief.
Proton pump inhibitors (Nexium, Prilosec or Prevacid) work by blocking and reducing the production of stomach acid which gives damaged esophageal tissue time to heal. They can take a couple days to work however their effects can last up to 10 weeks.
However, in addition to medication there are many natural remedies to help reduce heartburn.
Natural Remedies for Heartburn
Avoiding smoking and other products that include nicotine can help reduce symptoms of heartburn.
Nicotine from tobacco relaxes the muscles in your lower esophagus. Remember that these muscles are what help prevent the back flow of stomach acid into the esophagus which causes heartburn symptoms in the first place.
By quitting or minimizing the use of these products, you can help reduce the chance of a flare up.
Elevate Your Body From the Waist Up While Sleeping
Many people experience heartburn when they are trying to lay down to sleep at night which can be frustrating.
However, if you sleep at a slight angle using an adjustable bed then gravity can help keep stomach acid down and reduce your heartburn symptoms.
For best results, try to use something more than just pillows to create this angle.
Incorporate Ginger Into Your Diet
For centuries, Eastern Medicine has touted ginger as a versatile and highly effective herbal ingredient.
Some studies suggest that ginger may be effective in treating heartburn as well.
You can mix ginger into a morning tea or any other drink of choice. Alternatively, here are some simple recipes to get more ginger in your diet.
Lose Those Extra Pounds
Oftentimes, individuals that are overweight will suffer from heartburn related symptoms.
Although the exact reason is unclear, one hypothesis is that excess weight around the belly increases pressure on the stomach and abdomen. This in turn increases the probability of acid back flow into the esophagus.
Lifestyle changes like exercising for 30 minutes a day or avoiding foods high in saturated fat can have an immediate impact on recurring heartburn.
Avoid Late Meals
When you eat, your stomach goes to work digesting that food which means producing acid to break things down.
When you eat late at night and then lay down in bed you are increasing the probability that acid will flow back into the esophagus and produce heartburn symptoms.
Try to avoid eating within 2-3 hours of bedtime or if you need a snack avoid anything high in saturated fats or spices.
Wrapping It Up
Occasional heartburn is not uncommon and should not be cause for concern. By watching what you eat and making a few lifestyle changes, you can minimize the amount of flare ups and their severity.
However, if you are experiencing symptoms regularly it could indicate a more serious medical condition.
Talk with your healthcare provider about the symptoms you are experiencing and their frequency so you can find out which options work best for you.