If you’ve ever experienced a burning sensation in your chest after eating, you’ve probably had heartburn. Caused by stomach acid coming up into the esophagus—acid reflux or heartburn can happen to anyone, and it may get worse after eating certain foods, bending over, or lying down.
As common as it is, heartburn can be painful and even debilitating. Luckily, several at-home remedies for heartburn can help improve your symptoms, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
If you find your heartburn symptoms are occurring more frequently or not going away when you try to treat them, it’s important to talk to a licensed medical provider. They can rule out serious medical conditions and help you find a treatment that decreases your discomfort.
What is Heartburn?
Your esophagus is the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. When you swallow, a small muscle called your esophageal sphincter opens up to allow food or drink to pass down into your stomach.
If this muscle for some reason does not tighten again, stomach acid can flow back into your esophagus and cause a burning sensation behind your breastbone. This process is called acid reflux, resulting in the burning sensation many people call heartburn.
Heartburn most commonly causes a burning sensation in your chest, right behind your breastbone.
It can also result in other symptoms, including:
- Pain in your chest whenever you bend over or lie down
- A bitter, hot, or sour taste in the back of your throat
- A burning sensation in your throat
- Trouble swallowing
While heartburn symptoms can occur anytime after eating, people most commonly experience acid reflux right after they eat, especially if they overeat, or if they bend over or lie down too soon after eating.
Heartburn is caused by acid reflux, which happens when the esophageal sphincter relaxes and allows stomach acid to back up into the esophagus.
While heartburn can affect anyone, but some medical conditions are more likely to cause reflux, including:
- A hiatal hernia, which occurs when your stomach bulges into your chest
- Use of some medications, including aspirin and some anti-inflammatory drugs
A chronic condition called GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, can also cause heartburn.
It’s possible you may have GERD if your heartburn is frequent and doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medications. It’s important to treat GERD, because chronic acid reflux can result in long-term damage to the esophagus.
Acid Reflux vs Heartburn vs GERD
Often, people use the terms acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD interchangeably. However, they have different meanings. Acid reflux is a medical condition caused by acid from the stomach refluxing back into the esophagus.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic, more severe form of acid reflux that may cause serious complications if not treated. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and GERD, which can feel like a burning sensation behind the sternum.
How to Relieve Heartburn
Heartburn can be really uncomfortable, but several treatments can help decrease your symptoms. If you regularly experience acid reflux, start by talking to your doctor or a K doctor, who can help diagnose you and recommend medications and home remedies to soothe your discomfort.
If you are a smoker, you should stop. Here are some of the most common heartburn treatments people try to improve their symptoms.
Dietary modifications can also significantly help acid reflux. Do not lay back right after eating, avoid citrus, vinegars, BBQ sauces, and other acidic foods.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, available without a prescription, can help relieve heartburn and prevent bothersome symptoms. Your medical provider may recommend any of the below OTC medications:
- Antacids like Tums, Rolaids, and Maalox, provide relief for heartburn by neutralizing your stomach acid.
- H-2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs), such as famotidine (Pepcid AC, Pepcid Oral, and Zantac 360), reduce the amount of stomach acid your body produces. These medications may provide longer-term relief than antacids; however, they usually don’t work as fast.
- Proton pump inhibitors, including lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Nexium and Prilosec) can also reduce stomach acid.
If you still have heartburn after trying these medications, your doctor might recommend a workup to investigate further the cause(s) and a prescription drug instead. This could include a test for bacteria in the stomach or an endoscopy where you are put to sleep and a doctor puts a camera down your throat and into your stomach. Tissue samples are taken and analyzed.
Lying down or bending over after eating can cause acid from your stomach to move into your esophagus, resulting in heartburn. To prevent acid reflux, always sit up while eating and avoid bending over or lying down for at least two hours after eating.
It may also help to walk around after you eat so your digestive tract flows in the right direction.
Because certain foods can make heartburn worse or even cause heartburn, your doctor may suggest you adhere to a GERD-friendly diet.
First, avoid foods that are known to exacerbate reflux symptoms, such as:
- Spicy foods
- Citrus, including lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit
- Tomato and tomato products, including ketchup and marinara sauce
- Fatty foods
- Fried foods
- Carbonated drinks, including sparkling water and soda
- Tobacco products
While the above foods might worsen heartburn, some foods can actually help stave off acid reflux.
For example, it can be helpful to increase your fiber intake if you have GERD. Fibrous foods help you feel full, so you’ll be less likely to overeat and experience heartburn.
Watery foods, like fruits, vegetables, broth-based soup, and herbal tea, may also help reduce heartburn by diluting stomach acid.
Having overweight is one risk factor for experiencing acid reflux, so focusing on maintaining a healthy weight may be helpful. A 2006 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that higher weights link to a higher risk of heartburn.
In the study, women experiencing obesity (with a BMI higher than 30) had close to triple the risk of GERD symptoms, while those with a BMI of 25-30 were more than twice as likely than people with a BMI below 25. To decrease your risk of GERD and other chronic health conditions, maintain a healthy weight by eating a nutritious diet and exercising frequently.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Much like an OTC antacid, baking soda—which is alkaline in pH—may help to neutralize stomach acid and reduce heartburn symptoms. So if you have heartburn but don’t have antacids on hand, swallowing a teaspoon of baking soda could help. (Just keep in mind it probably won’t taste very good.)
Baking soda is quite high in sodium, so you shouldn’t use it on a regular basis. It’s also not safe for pregnant women.
A study found that licorice supplements are effective and safe at managing symptoms of heartburn. Follow the dosing recommendations on the supplement bottle.
Ginger is known for its soothing effects on the digestive system, and it’s commonly recommended for nausea and indigestion. It contains a compound called phenols, which are thought to resolve gastrointestinal irritation and gastric contractions.
For this reason, ginger could prevent acid reflux from backing up into your esophagus. Ginger is widely available at grocery stores, and you can also find it in herbal tea form.
Combining ginger and water, may dilute stomach acid and reduce heartburn symptoms. You can also chew ginger candy, also available at many grocers, if you’re struggling with indigestion.
If you get heartburn regularly, it may be worth keeping some chewing gum on hand to relieve your discomfort. According to one small study, chewing sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after a meal can improve reflux symptoms.
The idea is that chewing gum stimulates more saliva production which may reduce the amount of acid in your esophagus. If peppermint has worsened your heartburn in the past, then avoid mint-flavored gum when you’re experiencing discomfort from acid reflux.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar, made from crushed and fermented apples, is another common home remedy for heartburn. It’s thought that organic apple cider that contains nutritionally beneficial enzymes and proteins, can help improve health.
Some people experience acid reflux because they have too little stomach acid, and one theory is that apple cider vinegar introduces more acid into the digestive system. That said, there’s not any scientific research proving it helps.
If you want to try apple cider vinegar for heartburn, try diluting a tablespoon in a cup of water and sipping it. Adding a bit of honey may help if you find the flavor too sour.
It’s well known that smoking can be damaging to overall health, but experts say smoking cigarettes can also worsen people’s heartburn. That’s because nicotine relaxes smooth muscles in the body, including your esophageal sphincter.
When this muscle is relaxed, it’s more likely to allow stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Smoking can also cause your stomach to produce more acid, increasing your chances of experiencing pain and discomfort from acid reflux.
If you currently smoke and you want to improve your health and heartburn, it’s best to quit. Your doctor can help you quit with medication if necessary.
While some fruits, like citrus, can trigger heartburn, bananas may relieve it.
Because they are high in potassium, bananas are considered an alkaline food. So theoretically, a banana could help combat stomach acid, preventing reflux symptoms. If you use bananas to combat heartburn, always choose a ripe one—an unripe banana could actually be a heartburn trigger.
Aloe vera juice
Aloe vera juice, the thick liquid from the aloe vera plant leaf, isn’t just soothing to the skin. Studies suggest it may also help with acid reflux.
One trial from 2015 concluded that consuming the juice is a safe and effective way to relieve heartburn and other GERD symptoms, including food regurgitation and belching. In some cases, it was even more effective than OTC medication.
If you want to try aloe vera for heartburn, start with a few tablespoons a day; taking too much can result in diarrhea. Avoid aloe vera if you’re pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant.
Wear loose clothing
Wearing tight-fitting clothing, including pants, shirts, and shapewear, can put pressure on your abdomen and worsen heartburn symptoms. If you’re prone to acid reflux or have GERD, try wearing comfortable, loose-fitting clothing during and after your meals.
Introducing healthy bacteria into your digestive tract through a probiotic supplement or probiotic-rich foods can help with overall digestive health.
A number of studies also suggest probiotics can help with GERD symptoms, including regurgitation and heartburn—but there’s not enough strong evidence to know for sure how helpful they are. If you want to include more probiotics in your diet, try eating more yogurt, consuming fermented foods like sauerkraut, or drinking kefir or kombucha.
Your doctor can also recommend a probiotic supplement, which should be easy to find at the drugstore or grocery store.
Other Ways to Support Digestion
Eating fibrous foods like beans, wholegrains, lentils, and cherries helps the digestive process. Increase your levels of fiber slowly, however. Adding fiber too quickly into your diet can cause bloating and discomfort.
Eat smaller meals
Eating smaller meals more often throughout the day helps stop bloating and indigestion. Eating your food slowly also helps overload your digestive system.
Drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day helps your digestive system remove waste. This is especially important if you are increasing your fiber intake. Talk to your medical prover about how much fluid is right for you.
Stress triggers digestion problems. Intense emotions actually trigger chemical changes that interfere with normal digestion.
Learning how to manage stress can help curb heartburn and other tummy trouble.
When to See a Medical Provider
Heartburn often resolves on its own or with treatment. But if you have frequent heartburn, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to make sure you don’t have GERD, which can result in long-term damage to your esophagus.
See your doctor or a K doctor 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 experience unintentional weight loss
- You notice blood in your stool
- You experience abdominal pain
Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you are experiencing severe chest pain or pressure, or if your chest pain is accompanied by pain in your jaw, arms, or back, or if you experience shortness of breath or lightheadedness.
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.
An extract of glycyrrhiza glabra (GutGard) alleviates symptoms of functional dyspepsia: A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study. (2012.)
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (2021).
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Probiotics: A Systematic Review. (2020).
Steps to boost digestive health. (n.d.)