Despite what its name implies, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart.
Rather, it’s a burning sensation in your chest that occurs when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, the 10-inch tube connecting your mouth to your stomach.
When it hits, heartburn can last for just a few minutes or as long as several hours. Either way, it’s uncomfortable — so it’s no surprise if you’re looking for a way to get rid of the sensation fast.
What causes heartburn and what does it feel like exactly?
Stomach acid is needed to break down the food you eat, something your stomach has no trouble handling. Your esophagus, on the other hand, is irritated by it.
To keep stomach acid (and digesting food) in your stomach and out of your esophagus, a circular ring of muscle at the tube’s base, called the lower esophageal sphincter, acts as a valve. When this valve is relaxed, food you’ve consumed is allowed to pass through to your stomach. When contracted, this valve prevents this food and acid from backing up into your esophagus.
If this valve relaxes abnormally and stomach acid is allowed to travel back into your esophagus, acid reflux occurs. Heartburn is the most well-known and obvious symptom.
It can feel differently depending on its severity, but heartburn symptoms include:
A burning sensation in your chest, behind your breastbone
Burning pain that rises up toward your throat
Having a bitter or sour taste in your mouth
Acid reflux and heartburn are sometimes caused by an underlying medical condition, or even a medication you’re taking in some cases. But, more often than not, they’re triggered by things like your diet and lifestyle choices — making the occasional bout of heartburn fairly common.
Common triggers of heartburn include:
Overeating or eating too quickly
Lying down too soon after eating
Consuming certain foods, including caffeine, carbonated beverages, alcohol, peppermint, citrus, tomato-based products, chocolate and fatty or spicy foods
Stress and anxiety
10 home remedies for heartburn
If you’re trying to avoid acid reflux or get rid of heartburn fast, here are ten ways to ease — and even prevent — your symptoms:
1. Eat a ripe banana
The high potassium content of a banana makes it a fairly alkaline food, meaning it may help counteract the stomach acid irritating your esophagus. However, unripe bananas are less alkaline, starch-heavy and may actually be an acid reflux trigger for some people. So be sure to choose a banana that’s ripe. Other alkaline foods that may help offset heartburn include melons, cauliflower, fennel and nuts.
2. Chew sugar-free gum
Chewing gum increases saliva production. This works to help reduce heartburn since saliva can help promote swallowing — which can help keep acid down — and neutralize the stomach acid that’s refluxed into your esophagus.
3. Keep a food journal and avoid trigger foods
As mentioned, certain foods and drinks can trigger acid reflux and heartburn. You can help identify the specific foods most likely to give you issues by keeping a food and symptom log. Once you do identify them, avoid these foods and drinks whenever possible.
4. Resist the urge to overeat or eat quickly
When it comes to preventing heartburn, watching portion sizes at meals can go a long way. Having a large amount of food in your stomach may put more pressure on the valve that keeps stomach acid out of your esophagus, making acid reflux and heartburn more likely. If you’re prone to heartburn, consider eating smaller meals more frequently. Eating quickly can also be a trigger of heartburn so be sure to slow down and take time to chew food and drink beverages.
5. Avoid late meals, snacking before bed and eating before exercising
Laying down with a stomach full of food can trigger acid reflux and make heartburn symptoms worse. Avoid eating within 3 hours of your bedtime so your stomach has plenty of time to empty. You may also want to wait at least two hours before exercising.
6. Wear loose-fitting clothing
If you’re prone to heartburn, tight-fitting belts and clothing that squeeze your belly may be contributing to your symptoms.
7. Adjust your sleep position
Elevating your head and chest higher than your feet as you sleep can help prevent and ease acid reflux and heartburn. You can do this using a foam wedge placed under the mattress or by raising bedposts using wood blocks. Beware of piling pillows, as this usually isn’t effective and may even make your symptoms worse. Additionally, sleeping on your left side is thought to aid digestion and may work to limit stomach acid reflux.
8. Take steps to lose weight if you are overweight
Excess weight puts extra pressure on your stomach, increasing your risk of acid reflux and heartburn. Eating a well-balanced diet and getting 150 minutes of physical activity per week are the first two steps to maintaining a healthy weight and losing excess weight.
9. Stop smoking if you smoke
Smoking reduces the amount of saliva produced and impacts the effectiveness of the valve that keeps stomach acid from entering the esophagus, both of which make heartburn more likely. Quitting smoking can reduce the frequency and severity of acid reflux and, in some cases, even eliminate it.
10. Reduce stress
Chronic stress takes a physical toll on your body, including slowing digestion and making you more sensitive to pain. The longer food sits in your stomach, the more likely stomach acid is to reflux. Additionally, having an increased sensitivity to pain can make you feel the burning pain of heartburn more intensely. Taking steps to reduce stress may help prevent or ease the effects of acid reflux and heartburn.
What to do if heartburn is severe or frequent
For mild, occasional heartburn, over-the-counter medications such as antacids and histamine blockers can help relieve symptoms. Always read the product label before taking an antacid or histamine blocker and never take a larger dose or take doses more frequently than directed.
If you’re experiencing heartburn frequently, consult your doctor before taking heartburn medications regularly since these drugs can interfere with many other medications and affect underlying health conditions you may have.
If you have severe heartburn, as well as if it persists or worsens after taking steps to relieve it, consult your doctor. In some cases, heartburn can be a sign of an underlying condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or possibly a side effect of a medication you’re taking.