Living with
Heartburn

What is heartburn?

If you have heartburn it means that you experience a specific burning sensation or pain in your chest, just behind your breastbone. This pain is usually worse after eating or when lying down or bending over.
Heartburn is not a condition, but a symptom of an underlying digestive issue, mostly gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

 

Many people occasionally experience heartburn and can usually manage the discomfort of with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter antacid medications.

However, regular and severe heartburn may be a symptom of more serious GERD.

How do you know you have heartburn?

Symptoms of heartburn include:

  • A burning discomfort or pain in the chest that usually occurs after eating
  • The pain worsens when lying down or bending over
  • A bitter or acidic taste in the mouth from acid reflux.

When to see your doctor:

See your doctor if you experience severe and persistent symptoms of heartburn. Hints that you may have GERD, and should therefore see your doctor, includes discomfort or other symptons that interfere with your daily functioning and for which you have to use antacid medications more than twice a week to relieve.
Also see a doctor if you have problems swallowing, persistent nausea or vomiting, and if you keep losing weight because you cannot eat properly or have a loss of appetite.

 

If you experience chest pain with shortness of breath, palpitations or sweating, seek immediate medical attention as these may be symptoms that you are having a heart attack.

 

What causes heartburn?

Heartburn usually occurs as a result of GERD that you are at especial risk of if you are overweight, pregnant or have a hiatal hernia.

Other triggers of indigestion, like large fatty meals and spicy foods, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoke, caffeine, and stress and anxiety, can also cause heartburn.

Additionally, some pain medications, like aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can also cause heartburn.

Living and managing

If you have heartburn, it is a good idea that you avoid the triggers in your lifestyle that are causing the discomfort. To do this, you could follow the following lifestyle tips:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Try to keep as active as possible. You don’t have to join a gym do this; instead, just take regular walks, ride a bike or go dance along to the music on the radio.
    Your goal should be 30 minutes of moderate activity (makes you sweat and your heart beat a little faster) most days of the week.
  • Eating a healthy diet: Try to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is low in fat.
    You may also want to try eating smaller meals and taking more your time over meals, eating more slowly. Do not eat before bedtime or lie down after meals.
    Spicy or very acidic foods may also worsen your heartburn, and you should consider limiting their intake or avoiding them altogether.
  • Stop smoking: Talk to your doctor about ways to quit smoking.
  • Reducing or avoiding alcohol consumption or how much coffee or other caffeinated beverages you drink.
  • Find ways to manage your stress levels and make sure to get enough sleep.

 

What treatment is available for heartburn?

Many over-the-counter medications can help relieve heartburn and should be used in combination with the above lifestyle changes to manage your condition. Medications that can be used include:

  • Antacids: These neutralise stomach acid and usually provide quick relief, but they cannot heal damage done to the oesophagus.
  • H-2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs): These types of medication can reduce stomach acid. While H2RAs do not usually act as quickly as antacids, they may provide more lasting relief.
  • Proton pump inhibitors: These medications, such as lansoprazole and omeprazole, also reduce stomach acid and can help heal the damaged oesophagus.

If you find that over-the-counter versions of these medication are not working to provide regular relief of your symptoms, then speak to your doctor who can prescribe you stronger versions of these medications.

Sources

National Health Service Website. (2017) Heartburn and acid reflux. NHS, UK. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heartburn-and-acid-reflux/

 

Cleveland Clinic Staff. (2020) Heartburn: Possible Causes. The Cleveland Clinic. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9617-heartburn-overview/possible-causes

 

Wedro B. (n.d.) Heartburn. RxList. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.rxlist.com/heartburn/drugs-condition.htm

 

Murrell D. (2017) Heartburn: Why it happens and what to do. MedicalNewsToday. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9151

 

Marcin J. (2020) What Are the Differences Between Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD. Healthline. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/gerd/heartburn-vs-acid-reflux#heartburn

 

Mayo Clinic staff. (n.d.) Diseases & Condition: Heartburn. Mayo Clinic. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223

 

Mayo Clinic staff. (n.d.) Diagnosis and Treatment: Heartburn. Mayo Clinic. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373229

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Sources

National Health Service Website. (2017) Heartburn and acid reflux. NHS, UK. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heartburn-and-acid-reflux/

 

Cleveland Clinic Staff. (2020) Heartburn: Possible Causes. The Cleveland Clinic. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9617-heartburn-overview/possible-causes

 

Wedro B. (n.d.) Heartburn. RxList. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.rxlist.com/heartburn/drugs-condition.htm

 

Murrell D. (2017) Heartburn: Why it happens and what to do. MedicalNewsToday. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9151

 

Marcin J. (2020) What Are the Differences Between Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD. Healthline. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/gerd/heartburn-vs-acid-reflux#heartburn

 

Mayo Clinic staff. (n.d.) Diseases & Condition: Heartburn. Mayo Clinic. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223

 

Mayo Clinic staff. (n.d.) Diagnosis and Treatment: Heartburn. Mayo Clinic. Accessed June 2020. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373229