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Heartburn First Aid: What to Do for Immediate Relief

Heartburn First Aid: What to Do for Immediate Relief

Heartburn is characterized by a burning sensation in the chest behind the breastbone. It occurs when stomach acid moves up into the esophagus. When you swallow, a band of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter loosens to give way for food and liquid to enter the stomach, after which it tightens once more. But when the lower esophageal sphincter slackens abnormally, stomach acid may flow up, a phenomenon called acid reflux occurs, which results in heartburn. Antacids are usually associated with heartburn first aid, but there are other ways to alleviate this condition.

Digestive or stomach acid causes the pain or discomfort you experience from heartburn. Its symptoms include a burning sensation in the upper abdomen as well as a sour taste in the mouth.

Left untreated, heartburn can create more serious issues like inflammation, narrowing of the esophagus, respiratory issues, chronic cough and maybe even cancer.

What increases your chances of getting heartburn?

Some risk factors include eating spicy food, onions, citrus products, tomato-based foods or products, fatty or fried foods, alcohol, carbonated drinks, caffeinated beverages, peppermint, chocolate and large meals.

You are also at greater risk for heartburn if you are overweight or pregnant.

These foods and conditions often cause or influence the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter and the precipitation of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), associated closely with heartburn.

With GERD, digestive acid frequently backflows into the esophagus, causing irritation to the tube. One of the foremost options for heartburn first aid is avoiding these foods.

What can be done to ease heartburn?

One such way to alleviate heartburn has already been covered in the previous section (avoiding risk factors). Other heartburn first aid methods include the following:

  • Eating smaller meals
  • Avoiding bending over especially right after eating
  • Waiting around three hours before lying down
  • Elevating head of the bed by eight inches
  • Lying on the left side instead of the right
  • Losing excess weight
  • Alleviating stress with relaxation practices
  • Wearing loose clothing
  • Drinking ginger tea

Heartburn and your sleeping position

Heartburn, as indicated above, is soothed by improving your sleeping position. Apart from elevating your head to allow gravity to keep your stomach’s contents from being able to travel back to your esophagus, lying down on the left side has been shown to be more beneficial for those suffering from heartburn. This has been seen to be most beneficial if you are a side sleeper.

When you lie on your right side, the likelihood of relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter is higher than if you lie on your left. There is higher pressure on the sphincter, which prevents stomach contents from finding their way to the esophagus, as well as higher esophageal pH, which neutralizes stomach acid. Note that you should also avoid sleeping on your stomach, as this creates pressure that can push stomach contents to your esophagus, causing heartburn.

Antacids

Another form of heartburn first aid also includes over-the-counter medication, particularly antacids.

Antacids work by neutralizing acid and usually provide rapid relief. However, if these are not able to ease your symptoms, you may need prescription medication or treatment. H-2 receptor antagonists like ranitidine, cimetidine, and famotidine, among others, work by reducing stomach acid.

Its effects are not quick but they last longer. For some, proton pump inhibitors, which also reduce digestive acid, are more effective. Some examples are omeprazole, lansoprazole and esomeprazole.

Key Takeaways

Heartburn, though not a cause for alarm or concern, should not be ignored. It can be easily remedied at home with lifestyle and diet changes as well as over-the-counter medicines. However, if heartburn persists, you should consult with your doctor immediately. You may need prescribed medication or treatment.

Learn more about Heartburn here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Heartburn, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223 Accessed March 21, 2021

Heartburn or heart attack: When to worry, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/in-depth/heartburn-gerd/ Accessed March 21, 2021

Is That Pain In Your Chest Heartburn or a Heart Attack?, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-that-pain-in-your-chest-heartburn-or-a-heart-attack/ Accessed March 21, 2021

Heartburn Symptoms, Diet, Causes, Remedies, Treatment, and Cure, https://www.emedicinehealth.com/heartburn/article_em.htm Accessed March 21, 2021

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940 Accessed March 21, 2021

Are Lifestyle Measures Effective in Patients With Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/410292 Accessed March 21, 2021

What Is The Best Sleeping Position If I Have Acid Reflux?, https://gastrocenternj.com/acid-reflux-best-sleeping-position/ Accessed March 21, 2021

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Written by Louise Nichole Logarta Updated May 23
Medically reviewed by Elfred Landas, M.D.
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