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8 Common Questions About Heartburn, Answered

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Dec 31, 2022

    8 Common Questions About Heartburn, Answered

    While we may hear the word “heartburn” often, many of us may not fully understand what it really is and what causes it. Here are some of the most common questions about heartburn, answered.

    What Are the Symptoms of Heartburn?

    Before we begin, it’s important to note that “heartburn” is technically a sensation, but not really the term for the condition.

    A common characteristic of heartburn is a burning feeling or pain in your chest that can happen at night but normally happens after eating. The pain can also worsen when a person bends over or lies down. Additionally, another symptom is having an acidic or bitter taste in your mouth.

    How Does It Happen?

    When the contents of your stomach regurgitate back up to your esophagus, it can cause heartburn. The esophagus sits right behind your heart. Its main function is to push food in rhythmic waves towards your stomach.

    So, it is what you call the burning and painful sensation in your lower chest when the esophagus cannot properly do its job.

    What is the Difference Between Acid Reflux and Heartburn?

    People may often mix up heartburn and acid reflux.

    Simply put, heartburn is the burning sensation or the pain in the chest when gastric contents including acid backflow or reflux regurgitate from the stomach to the esophagus. Hence, acid reflux may cause heartburn.

    What Are Its Causes?

    Since it is a symptom of acid reflux, there is a good chance that what causes your heartburn will be similar to what causes acid reflux.

    So, if you are wondering what causes it every day, it could be your diet. Certain drinks and food can worsen symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn.

    Some irritants that can make your symptoms worse are alcohol, aspirin, caffeine, carbonated beverages, acidic foods, acidic juices, etc.

    If the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes from the stomach, it can let acid reflux into your esophagus. Some things that can affect the way it functions are eating high-fat content foods and smoking.

    Pregnancy can also cause heartburn. Since pregnancy could increase the pressure in the abdominal cavity, it can affect the way the lower esophageal sphincter functions, which can make a pregnant woman more likely to experience the symptom.

    You may be wondering, “Can stress cause heartburn?” Well, stress could contribute to it and potentially make it worse.

    Esophageal diseases can also make people experience heartburn. Some of those conditions include sarcoidosis and scleroderma.

    Who is More At Risk?

    People who often indulge in the causes of heartburn, such as consuming acidic foods and smokers, are more likely to experience it. People who have a hiatal hernia also have the chance of feeling heartburn.

    As mentioned earlier, pregnant women are more predisposed to experiencing the symptom. And people who are obese may experience it as well because they also have more pressure on their abdomen. Additionally, people who eat large portions of food and eat before bedtime are more likely to get heartburn.

    What Are the Risks of Heartburn?

    One of the risks of heartburn is that it could simply be a sign of undiagnosed acid reflux or another type of condition with your esophagus. However, there are many risks that could come with untreated heartburn.

    Ignoring it can lead to damage in your esophagus that can cause esophagitis. You can also develop sores or strictures in your esophagus’ lining, which have a lot of other side effects that can affect the quality of your life. For instance, it can make it painful to swallow, which can eventually lead to dehydration and weight loss.

    If you have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), there is a chance you can develop Barrett’s esophagus. What’s more, untreated heartburn can also heighten your risk of getting esophageal cancer.

    A surprising harmful side effect of heartburn is tooth decay. How does this happen? Stomach acid can weaken your tooth enamel and increase your chances of getting cavities.

    How Can I Treat Heartburn?

    If you are going to try treating heartburn, there is a good chance that you will get acid reflux treatment. Some of the treatment includes certain over-the-counter medications, such as antacids.

    You may be given prescription medication by your doctor. Most GERD cases can be controlled by treating it with medication. However, a doctor may suggest surgery, such as fundoplication, if you do not want to be on medication for a long period or the medication does not work.

    There are tons of home remedies and lifestyle changes that can be made to help reduce the symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn. For instance, smokers ought to stop smoking and it is recommended to stop consuming alcohol because these can both weaken the lower esophageal sphincter.

    Additionally, it is ideal to avoid eating large meals and eating late at night. It would also be good to wait at least around 3 hours before you lie down after eating. Elevating your body from the waist up by elevating a bed from the head part could also decrease your symptoms of heartburn (keep in mind that using extra pillows to only raise your head may not work).

    You may also want to focus on eating a healthy and “tummy friendly” diet. It would be best to avoid oily, spicy, etc. food as often as possible.

    When Should I Contact a Doctor?

    Getting heartburn on very few occasions may not be anything to worry about. However, if you experience it 2 or more times a week, it would be ideal to see your doctor. If you already have over-the-counter medication to treat your heartburn and it does not work, consulting your doctor would be a good idea.

    Concerning features include:

    1. long-standing symptoms
    2. difficulty/ pain in swallowing
    3. weight loss
    4. vomiting blood
    5. recurrent or frequent vomiting

    Other signs that you may need to seek professional medical help is persistent vomiting or nausea and difficulty swallowing. If you find it difficult to eat because of the pain and it leads to weight loss, we suggest that you talk to your doctor as soon as you can.


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

    Medically reviewed by

    Jezreel Esguerra, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Dec 31, 2022

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