Heartburn can be really unpleasant. Those that experience it regularly have been known to say 'heartburn is ruining my life!' and with so many potential causes, it's easy to see why.
We don't want to see you suffer, so we've compiled a complete guide to heartburn, which contains everything from the symptoms, causes and of course, natural home remedies for quick heartburn relief too.
Ready to start feeling yourself again? Then let's get started!
What is heartburn?
The contents of the stomach is acidic, to help break down and digest food. To prevent acid rising back up into the throat, there's something called the lower oesophagal sphincter muscle (a sort of valve), at the base of the oesophagus (the pipe that carries food from the mouth to the stomach).
Acid reflux, and the resulting heartburn, occurs when the lower oesophagus sphincter muscle doesn't close completely and acid enters the oesophagus.
What does heartburn feel like?
Heartburn is often described as a 'burning sensation' in the middle of the chest, close to the heart. You may also experience chest pain. Burning or an acidic taste in the back of the throat is another symptom, as is difficulty swallowing.
Often, people will experience a multitude of symptoms at once.
How long does it last?
The time it takes for heartburn to calm down varies dramatically. Some people experience pain for just a few minutes, whilst for others, it can go on for hours and even days.
Heartburn caused by eating certain foods is likely to last until the food has been fully digested (a few hours).
Causes of heartburn
There are many causes of heartburn, including:
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
Acid reflux and heartburn are often confused as being the same thing. However, heartburn is actually a symptom of acid reflux, that is, of acid refluxing back into the oesophagus.
If you suffer from heartburn regularly, we recommend a visit to your doctor to check whether or not you may have GERD - a chronic form of acid reflux.
Many women experience heartburn during pregnancy. This isn't anything to worry about, as it's often caused by the extra pressure the growing uterus puts on the abdominal cavity, which can force acid up into the oesophagus.
The body also produces more progesterone during pregnancy in order to help the muscles relax. Whilst this is a blessing, it can also be a curse as far as the stomach valve that prevents acid from moving into the oesophagus is concerned as it can cause muscles to relax.
Given that heartburn is more common during pregnancy, it's easy to see how it could also be more prevalent amongst those carrying excess weight.
Belly fat causes pressure on the stomach, which is thought to increase the likelihood of stomach acid being forced up into the oesophagus.
Puffing on a cigarette is likely to relax your mind, but that's not all it'll do. The nicotine in tobacco relaxes the muscles inside your body too, including that lower sphincter muscle.
As it does so, acid is able to leak up into the oesophagus and cause burning heartburn.
If you notice you get heartburn at certain times of the month, your menstrual cycle could be to blame.
During the cycle, progesterone is released by the ovaries and adrenal glands to prepare the body for a pregnancy, which, as during an actual pregnancy, may relax the sphincter muscle
Many regular sufferers of heartburn identify stress as one of the main triggers, however, there is little scientific evidence available that backs this up.
The only conclusion that has yet been found is that stress makes the body more sensitive to even the smallest amount of acid reflux, which could explain the pain.
Similarly to being overweight or pregnant, eating large quantities of food will put extra pressure on the stomach which could lead to acid escaping.
Always keep an eye on your portion size, and if you suffer from heartburn regularly, eat little and often to try and reduce heartburn.
Do you always seem to experience heartburn after eating? This is no coincidence. Certain foods can relax the lower oesophagal sphincter which enables acid to enter the oesophagus, causing heartburn.
If you want to learn how to prevent heartburn, it's worth getting clued up on certain foods and drinks that can trigger it.
Foods that cause heartburn
Certain foods are more likely to cause heartburn than others. We've rounded up the most common heartburn-causing foods in the list below.
Onions, and especially raw onions, can be a trigger food for digestive issues in many people.
Not only that, but they're one of the many foods that can also relax the lower oesophagus sphincter muscle, and cause acid reflux. The fermentable fibre they contain can also cause burping, which can make existing heartburn worse.
A study carried out on 32 subjects using hamburgers, of which half of the subjects were given hamburgers with onion, and half without found onion to have a negative effect on heartburn.
Alcohol can have a negative effect on many conditions, and acid reflux is one of them.
Most of us feel more relaxed after a few drinks, so it's no surprise that alcohol is also prone to relaxing the lower oesophagal sphincter, which puts you at risk of acid reflux. This is even worse than under normal circumstances as alcohol often also makes the content of the stomach more acid - a bit of a double-whammy, so to speak!
3. Citrus fruits
For those that experience heartburn regularly, foods that increase the levels of acid in the stomach should be avoided wherever possible.
A perfect example of these are citrus fruits. Lemons, limes and even some other fruits such as apples and apricots are acidic, which can reduce the pH in the stomach, causing problems for those with GERD.
4. Fatty foods
It's a no for fast food I'm afraid. There are several reasons eating fatty food can lead to heartburn:
- Fatty food makes you feel lethargic, inside and out. This can make muscles 'lazy' - bad news for your sphincter muscle!
- Additionally, the grease from fatty foods can prevent the sphincter muscle from tightening successfully.
- Not only this, but fatty foods are harder to digest, requiring the stomach to make more acid. The combination of more acidic stomach content and a loose sphincter is bad news for your acid reflux.
5. Coffee & tea
Another stimulant that can relax the sphincter muscle is coffee, or, more specifically, caffeine.
Avoid over-caffeination (600mg caffeine/day or 4-7 cups) if you want to keep heartburn at bay. Certain coffees are also thought to be better at preventing heartburn than others. Shade-grown or 100% Arabica coffee is preferred.
We're sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but chocolate is off the menu if your suffer from heartburn.
The reason chocolate makes us feel so good is because it actually causes a surge of serotonin - the 'happy' hormone - to be released into our bloodstream.
Happy = more relaxed, which is, again, bad news for your sphincter muscle. Chocolate can also contain caffeine, which, as we've mentioned already, is no good for your acid reflux either.
If these acids, along with the gastric acid produced to digest food in the stomach leak into the oesophagus, things could get pretty painful.
8. Spicy food
Many people claim that spicy food is a trigger for their heartburn, however, again there remains little scientific evidence to back this up.
One thought it that the spice irritates the lining of the oesophagus, or even the stomach lining itself which could lead to pain. If you usually tend to overdo things when you head to the curry house, not only on the spice but also portion size, these could go hand in hand to produce heartburn.
A warm peppermint tea is a way many of us wind down in the afternoon or evening. Some people even use it to calm the stomach when they're experiencing digestive issues.
This is rather ironic, as mint can be so relaxing that it actually causes the oesophagus sphincter to relax and allow acid to flow up, causing heartburn.
10. Carbonated drinks
Another often misconception when it comes to curing heartburn is carbonated drinks. Although people claim the 'fizz' can settle the stomach, it actually does the opposite.
Once fizzy drinks reach the stomach, the bubbles cause extra pressure, which can cause the stomach acid to rise and shoot up into the oesophagus.
It's another devastating one I'm afraid - it's been found in several studies that a diet lower in carbohydrates can reduce acid reflux. In some cases, the results were so great that people were able to come off their heartburn medication altogether.
A low carb diet could do wonders for your heartburn. Think twice before you reach for that baguette next time.
How to get heartburn relief
If heartburn is getting in the way of your life, it's time to act! There are lots of small changes you can make to your lifestyle that will help with acid reflux and make heartburn less likely.
Here are just some of the things you could try to get instant heartburn relief.
1. Chew gum
Although it causes a lot of problems for our pavements, dispose of it properly and there are many beneficial reasons for chewing gum.
When we chew, saliva production increases which will in turn help flush acid out of the oesophagus and decrease the acidity of the stomach.
2. Elevate head
Anything that will make acid reflux more difficult will also reduce heartburn symptoms.
Elevating the head when lying down will mean acid has a harder job of leaking up into the oesophagus, increasing the likelihood of a peaceful night's sleep.
3. Wear loose clothing
Anything that puts pressure on the stomach increases the risk of acid reflux.
Tight clothing, including shapewear and also belts, may force acid up into the oesophagus and give you those painful heartburn symptoms we're trying to help you avoid.
Keep clothing loose and comfortable and your heartburn will thank you for it.
4. Change sleeping position
Do you sleep on your side?
Studies have found that those that sleep on their right side experience more painful heartburn at night, as opposed to those who sleep on their left.
It's thought lying on the right side is more likely to relax the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle, making acid reflux more likely.
5. Stand up straight
The straighter you can stand, the better.
This not only benefits your back but will also reduce the amount of pressure n the low oesophagal sphincter, making it less likely to loosen and allow stomach acid to escape.
6. Elevate the upper body
If you can't stand up completely when watching a gripping tv show or napping the afternoon away, try elevating your upper body.
This can easily be done by placing a pillow under your back or, if you have the option, adjusting the angle of your sofa back/bed.
7. Don't eat before bed
We've already seen how eating certain foods and overindulging can cause heartburn.
These are more likely to trigger acid reflux and resultant heartburn when you're lying down and the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle relaxes. For this reason, it's best to avoid eating right before bed.
If you can, have dinner at least two hours before bedtime to give your stomach enough time to digest everything.
There are loads of over the counter medicines you can get to treat heartburn, such as Rennie, the UK's best-selling heartburn and indigestion tablet.
Usually, medications work to neutralise stomach acid and relieve the symptoms of heartburn.
NOTE: Always check the dosage instructions carefully before taking any form of medication, and if in doubt, consult your GP first.
Home remedies for heartburn
As usual, we have some fantastic home remedies to share with you today. Expert Home Tips always recommend trying natural cures first, and some of the simple remedies below could really do wonders for your heartburn.
1. Bicarbonate of soda & water
If you've read our uses for bicarbonate of soda, you'll already know it's handy for so much more than baking alone.
Today we're sharing another way to use this budget miracle product with you - combined with water to treat heartburn.
Bicarbonate of soda is a natural antacid and will neutralise the acidity of the stomach, reducing heartburn symptoms to provide you quick relief.
TRY IT: Dissolve 1 tsp baking soda into a glass of water and drink slowly.
2. Ginger for heartburn
We've all heard of the wonders of ginger tea.
Whilst ginger can't prevent heartburn, it can dramatically help to ease symptoms.
There are many health benefits of ginger, but its anti-inflammatory properties are what's particularly beneficial for heartburn sufferers. When acid reflux occurs, the oesophagus can become damaged and inflamed. Ginger can help to soothe swelling and ease pain to provide relief.
Another of the most popular natural acid reflux treatments is deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL).
4. Apple cider vinegar
If you've read our post about the many beauty benefits of apple cider vinegar, you'll already know why it's an essential item to have in the home.
Among apple cider vinegar's many uses is its ability to neutralise stomach acid and reduce heartburn symptoms.
Drink it diluted in a glass of water, and add honey if you find it too sour. Sip through a straw if possible to prevent damage to the teeth.
Hopefully our tips will help you get rid of your heartburn for good. What's your favourite home remedy for heatburn? Let us know in the comments below!