Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm.  However, more frequent heartburn that interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of something more serious that requires help from your gastroenterologist. 

Man with HeartburnHeartburn is the symptom of acid reflux and GERD.  However, not everyone with acid reflux has heartburn, and not everyone with heartburn has acid reflux.  It has been shown that one in 10 Americans suffer from heartburn symptoms at least once a week.  With different triggers, heartburn can occur at any time.  If you suffer from heartburn it is important to find effective remedies to prevent your acid reflux from worsening. 

A symptom of acid reflux and GERD, heartburn can be caused by other unusual things such as intestinal motility problems.  Cardiac problems can also mirror heartburn, making it important to not confuse the two.  Many people have different acid reflux-related heartburn triggers, but most have similar symptoms, including:

  • A burning feeling in the chest just behind the breastbone that occurs after eating and lasts a few minutes to several hours. 
  • Chest pain, especially after bending over, lying down, or eating.
  • Burning in the throat, or a hot, sour, or acidic tasting fluid at the back of the throat.
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling of food “sticking” in the middle of the chest or throat
  • Heartburn may cause chronic cough, sore throat, or chronic hoarseness

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain, especially when accompanied by other signs and symptoms, such as shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain.  These may be signs and symptoms of a heart attack. If you take over-the-counter medications for heartburn more than twice per week, visit your gastroenterologist immediately.  

Heartburn FAQs

General | Treatment | Causes | Pregnancy Heartburn | Bad Heartburn



What Does It Mean To Have Heartburn?

Heartburn, also called acid indigestion, happens when there is irritation of the esophagus -- the tube that connects your throat and stomach. It's caused by stomach acid.

When Should I Call the Doctor About Heartburn?

You should call the doctor about your heartburn if you:

  • Have symptoms that are more severe or frequent
  • Have difficulty swallowing or pain when swallowing, especially with solid foods or pills
  • Have nausea or vomiting
  • Experience drastic or unexplained weight loss
  • Have a chronic cough, choking sensation or sense of a lump in your throat
  • Have been using over-the-counter antacid medications for more than two weeks and you still have heartburn symptoms
  • Still have symptoms even after taking prescription or nonprescription medications
  • Have chronic hoarseness or wheezing, or your asthma has worsened
  • Have pain that interferes with your daily activities
  • Have chest pain accompanied by pain in the neck, jaw, arms, or legs; shortness of breath, weakness, irregular pulse, or sweating
  • Have extreme stomach pain
  • Are experiencing diarrhea or black or bloody bowel movements

What is the difference between chest pain and heartburn?

The main difference between symptoms is that heart attack does not cause bloating or belching, but these can happen with heartburn. Also, heartburn:

  • Tends to be worse after eating and when lying down - although heart attack can happen after a meal, too
  • Can be relieved by drugs that reduce acid levels in stomach
  • Doesn’t cause more general symptoms such as breathlessness

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What helps with heartburn?

Some tips to help with heartburn include:

  • Wear loose clothing
  • Use good posture
  • Elevate from the waist up
  • Chew gum to help neutralize acid
  • Avoid cigarette smoke

What are some home remedies for heartburn?

You can try mixing a teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water. Before you decide to take any herbal remedy or supplement, check with our gastroenterologists. Some supplements can have side effects or can interact with medications you're already taking.

Can milk help with heartburn?

While milk may temporarily buffer stomach acid, nutrients in milk, especially fat, will stimulate the stomach to produce more acid. 

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Who is at higher risk to get heartburn?

Factors that make people more at risk for heartburn include:

  • Smokers
  • Overweight
  • Pregnant

What factors contribute to heartburn?

  • Overeating
  • Eat spicy, fatty, or greasy foods
  • Lying down after you eat
  • Stress

What foods might contribute to heartburn?

  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Greasy foods
  • Onions
  • Oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruits and juices
  • Peppermint
  • Sodas and other carbonated drinks
  • Spicy foods
  • Tomatoes and tomato sauce

What things contribute to heartburn at night?

Carbonated soft drinks and prescription sleeping pills can lead to nighttime heartburn.

Can heartburn cause back pain?

Yes, it can. Talk to our gastroenterologists if you are experiencing back pain that seems to be related to heartburn.

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Pregnancy Heartburn

Why can pregnancy cause heartburn?

Heartburn in pregnancy may occur because of changing hormone levels, which can affect the muscles of the digestive tract. Pregnancy hormones can cause the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscular valve between the stomach and esophagus) to relax, allowing stomach acids to splash back up into the esophagus. In addition, the enlarged uterus can crowd the abdomen, pushing stomach acids upward. 

What foods should pregnant women avoid to prevent heartburn?

To reduce heartburn in pregnancy, women can:

  • Eat several small meals each day instead of three large ones
  • Eat slowly
  • Avoid fried, spicy, or fatty foods
  • Drink less while eating.
  • Don't lie down directly after eating

Will the heartburn go away after pregnancy?

Heartburn usually goes away after childbirth.

What can I take for heartburn while pregnant?

Ask our gastroenterologists about using over-the-counter medications that are generally safe to use during pregnancy. You may find that liquid heartburn relievers are more effective because they coat the esophagus.

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Bad Heartburn

Could bad heartburn mean something more serious?

Bad and frequent heartburn may be a symptom of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Untreated, GERD can cause serious health problems. Talk to our gastroenterologists if you think you have GERD.

What if I have bad heartburn and wake up gasping for air?

Waking up in the night feeling like you’re gasping for air is a frightening, yet common, sign of heartburn. There are some things you can do to prevent this, but the first thing you should do is see a doctor to make sure the acid has not done damage your esophagus.

Why does heartburn wake me up at night?

You might wake up when a small amount of stomach acid comes up through your esophagus and into your mouth which can cause a choking feeling and irritate the lining. 

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