If you notice your chest starts to burn and you have a sour taste in your throat after you eat, it’s possible that you have heartburn, a condition that occurs when acid from the stomach enters the esophagus.
While heartburn is common and can happen to anyone from time to time, it can also be a sign of a chronic medical condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Heartburn severity can range from uncomfortable to very painful, but luckily, there are a number of options for treating it.
Home remedies, simple lifestyle changes, and over-the-counter medications can reduce heartburn symptoms.
If your heartburn is ongoing or severe, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication.
Either way, if heartburn is interfering with your life, make sure to talk to a health care provider.
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is an uncomfortable or even painful burning sensation that can occur in your chest (behind your breastbone) and your throat and neck.
Along with general discomfort, it can also result in a sour taste in the back of the throat.
Heartburn is usually worse at night and after a person eats.
Heartburn can happen to anyone, but certain medical conditions are especially known to cause reflux, such as:
- Pain in your chest area when you bend over or lie down
- A bitter, hot, our acidic taste in the back of your throat
- A burning sensation in your throat
- Difficulty swallowing
Often, people experience heartburn symptoms shortly after they eat, or if they lie down too soon after eating.
When you swallow, a small muscle around the bottom of your esophagus—the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach—relaxes to let food and drink move down into your stomach.
Then, the muscle tightens again.
If that band of muscle somehow relaxes, then stomach acid can back up into the esophagus from the stomach after you eat.
This is called acid reflux, and it results in heartburn.
Heartburn can happen to anyone, but certain medical conditions are known to cause reflux, such as:
- A hiatal hernia, when your stomach bulges into your chest cavity
- Medications such as aspirin and certain anti-inflammatory drugs
If you have heartburn often and it doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medications, you may have a chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
This condition, if left untreated, can result in esophageal damage and lead to chronic pain and inflammation, so it’s important to seek treatment.
Often, doctors treat GERD with prescription medications and possibly surgery or other procedures in severe cases.
Lastly, if you experience acid reflux, certain foods are more likely to result in heartburn than others:
- Spicy food
- Tomato and tomato products
- Fatty foods
- Fried food
- Carbonated beverages
Certain eating habits can also cause heartburn.
For example, eating large meals or eating too close to bedtime can increase the chances you’ll experience symptoms.
How Long Does Heartburn Last?
Because heartburn can stem from different causes, people can have very different experiences with it.
In some cases, it lasts just a few minutes, especially if you take an over-the-counter medication for heartburn symptoms.
For others, heartburn can last a few hours.
Generally, the heartburn symptoms resolve when the food has been totally digested, but it may return if you bend over or lie down.
Even after your heartburn symptoms go away, it’s possible that they may recur—for example, eating certain foods can cause reflux, as can eating too close to bedtime (especially if you eat a large meal).
People with conditions like GERD, or pregnant people, are also more likely to experience heartburn more frequently (and sometimes, more severely).
Heartburn Treatment and Prevention
If heartburn is interfering with your life, there are several ways to treat it, from simple lifestyle tweaks to over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Before you try taking medication for heartburn, consider home remedies that may help improve your symptoms.
- Chewing gum: One small study suggests chewing sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after a meal can improve reflux.
- Peppermint: While peppermint can exacerbate heartburn in some people, it may help heartburn by relaxing the stomach, so if it’s helped you with GI symptoms in the past, a cup of peppermint tea or a peppermint candy may help.
- Ginger: Ginger, too, has properties that can soothe inflammation in the stomach and digestive tract. A cup of ginger tea or a ginger candy could be useful if you have heartburn.
- Baking soda: Like antacids, baking soda helps to neutralize acid in your stomach. If you don’t have antacid on hand, a teaspoon of baking soda may help—but it probably won’t taste great.
- A glass of milk: Cow’s milk contains compounds that can help buffer stomach acid, but keep in mind that full fat milk may make heartburn worse. If you have heartburn, try a glass of skim milk.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications can also help to relieve heartburn and prevent bothersome symptoms.
The most commonly recommended non-prescription heartburn medication options include:
- Antacids like Tums and Rolaids help neutralize your stomach acid and, in turn, provide rapid symptom relief.
- H-2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs), such as famotidine (Pepcid AC, Pepcid Oral, and Zantac 360), can reduce the amount of stomach acid produced by your body. They may provide longer-term relief than antacids, but they don’t work as quickly.
- Proton pump inhibitors, including lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Nexium and Prilosec) can also reduce stomach acid.
If these medications don’t fully relieve your symptoms, your health care provider may recommend a prescription-strength acid blocker (in a higher dose than OTC).
Certain proton pump inhibitors are also available through a prescription.
Some basic lifestyle changes can also prevent heartburn and help minimize your symptoms once they occur.
If you suffer from heartburn, try:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding alcohol and smoking
- Avoiding large meals
- Avoiding foods that trigger your heartburn
- Avoiding tight-fitting clothing that causes pressure on your abdomen area
- Elevating the head of your bed to prevent reflux
If you’ve tried lifestyle shifts and home remedies, but nothing’s helping, make sure to see a health care provider about your heartburn.
When to See a Doctor
While heartburn symptoms may resolve on their own or with treatments, check in with your health care provider or a K doctor if you have persistent heartburn that causes you ongoing discomfort.
See a health care provider if you:
- Have heartburn more than twice a week
- Your symptoms don’t resolve with over-the-counter medication
- You experience persistent nausea, vomiting, or difficulty swallowing
- You’re losing weight because of difficulty eating
If you’re experiencing severe chest pain or pressure, or your chest pain is accompanied by pain in your jaw or arms, go to the emergency department or call 911 right away.
How K Health Can Help
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (2021).
Long-term management of gastroesophageal reflux disease with pantoprazole. (2007).