Do you remember the time when you ate something and felt a pain or burning sensation in your chest and a bitter taste in your throat or mouth? That fiery feeling can be heartburn. However, it doesn’t always have to do with your heart. Instead, it is a burning sensation behind your breastbone, in the middle of your chest. Sometimes, you might also feel it in your throat.
The heartburn symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. It usually worsens after you eat or lay down too soon afterwards. Heartburn can also be a symptom of various illnesses, including acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and even pregnancy.
Heartburn: What does it feel like?
When you have heartburn, you may experience symptoms like:
- Burning sensation in the chest, which may last from a few minutes to several hours
- Pain or pressure behind the breastbone
- Increased pain after bending or laying down
- Hot, sour, acidic or salty bitter taste in the mouth
- Hoarseness or coughing
- Difficulty in swallowing.
Heartburn is pretty common. However, frequent and severe heartburn could be a sign of GERD, a chronic acid reflux condition. Therefore, you should consult a healthcare provider if you experience these symptoms regularly.
What Causes Heartburn?
The process of breaking down food (digestion) starts inside your stomach. It requires a powerful acid. Ideally, your stomach should hold this concoction. Unfortunately, your oesophagus cannot contain it. As a result, it might get hurt. In addition, any malfunction in the valve between your stomach and oesophagus can make the acidic mixture go back to the oesophagus. It will result in reflux.
When you have reflux, you will frequently experience the burning sensation known as heartburn.
Additionally, a few physical and medical conditions can also cause reflux and heartburn. They are:
- Hiatal hernia (a condition in which the stomach bulges up into the chest)
- Certain medications, particularly anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Your daily lifestyle can also trigger heartburn. For some people, it can be your eating habits like the size of your meals. But, at the same time, a trigger for heartburn can be less spacing between your dinner and bedtime.
Some other lifestyle habits that can trigger heartburn include:
- Being overweight
- Being a smoker
- Wearing tight clothes and belts
- Having a high-stress level
However, the primary causes of heartburn are dietary factors. Therefore, they play a significant role in heartburn. For example, a lactose intolerant or glucose-intolerant person can experience heartburn.
Foods that may Cause Heartburn
A study on the Korean population found that some foods and beverages can cause heartburn in some people. So, let us take a look at such foods and beverages.
1. High-fat Foods or Fried Foods
High-fat foods take longer to digest. Chances of heartburn significantly increase if food stays in your stomach for longer and digests slowly. In addition, the risk increases if you overeat high fat foods at a time. It is also one of the reasons that your dietitian or nutritionist suggest you avoid eating such foods in excess.
2. Spicy Foods
One of the components found in spicy foods is capsaicin, an active component of chilli peppers. It may result in immediate adverse effects and irritate the stomach if you consume them in excess. In addition, a study found that chilli capsules may cause more severe sensations of burning in the belly and more severe heartburn.
Another study including 4,633 Iranian adults found that high consumption of spicy foods leads to a greater risk of heartburn in men. In addition, spicy foods can irritate the oesophagus, aggravating heartburn symptoms.
Alcohol can increase the amount of acid produced by the stomach. It can also increase the sensitivity of the tissues to acid, resulting in heartburn. Alcohol also relaxes the muscles surrounding the stomach, making the stomach’s contents more prone to spill out.
4. Acidic Foods
When you eat foods with a low pH alone on an empty stomach, they might trigger heartburn. These foods are acidic. Some examples are tomatoes, citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and lemons, or vinegar found in salad dressings. If you discover that some of your favourite foods are acidic, try eating them in small amounts. In addition, combine them with other foods to see if heartburn symptoms develop.
5. Caffeinated and Carbonated Beverages
Liquids like soda, coffee, and tea contain caffeine. It increases acid production in the stomach, leading to acid reflux. Therefore, you should avoid overconsumption of such beverages.
According to a study, onions, especially raw onions, are common heartburn triggers. Additionally, they are high in FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). It is a type of small nondigestible carbohydrate. It may cause digestive problems in some people. Therefore, people sensitive to FODMAPs may experience heartburn after consuming raw onions.
Ingredients in chocolate include cacao and caffeine. Studies show that these ingredients can relax the stomach valve (LES) and increase oesophageal exposure to acid reflux. So, if you have heartburn issues, you should avoid chocolate consumption.
8. Some Dairy Products
Since milk and dairy products are high in fat, they aggravate heartburn. Therefore, when you experience frequent GERD symptoms like heartburn, high-fat dairy products, such as cheese, might exacerbate your symptoms. Furthermore, cold dairy products such as ice cream might numb and impair the action of the lower oesophageal sphincter.
9. Fatty Meats Such as Bacon and Sausage
Fatty red meat can cause heartburn because fat slows down the stomach emptying. In addition, it leads to more pressure in the stomach, which makes it push acid into the oesophagus.
The worst culprits are foods high in fat, salt, spice, or acidic foods. However, many people may not be able to avoid these foods altogether. Therefore, moderation is the key. It is best to avoid eating these foods late in the evening, closer to bedtime. Because of that, the foods will not stay undigested in your stomach and then come up your oesophagus when you lay down at night. It’s also good to eat small frequent meals instead of bigger, heavier meals. In addition, you should avoid late-night and bedtime snacks.
Home Remedies for Heartburn
Some foods may offer instant relief from heartburn symptoms. Consider trying the following:
Milk is high in calcium and protein, which have heartburn-relieving properties. However, the fat in milk can aggravate acid reflux. On the other hand, non-fat milk can function as a temporary buffer between the stomach lining and acidic stomach contents. As a result, it may provide relief from heartburn symptoms immediately.
Ginger is one of the best digestive aids due to its therapeutic characteristics. It is alkaline and anti-inflammatory, which helps to soothe gastric inflammation. If you’re experiencing heartburn, the best way to use ginger is by drinking ginger tea.
3. Lemon Water
Although lemon juice is highly acidic, a tiny amount mixed with warm water and honey has an alkalising effect. It helps neutralise stomach acid. In addition, honey is also high in natural antioxidants, which help maintain cell health.
4. Herbal Tea
Chamomile, liquorice, slippery elm, and marshmallow can soothe GERD and heartburn symptoms. Therefore, you should have herbal tea for immediate relief.
Foods to Include in Your Diet to Prevent Heartburn
Fibrous foods make you feel full, reducing your chances of overeating. Overeating can be one of the reasons behind your heartburn. High fibre foods include:
- Whole grains like oatmeal, couscous, brown rice, and whole wheat flour
- Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets
- Green veggies like broccoli, green beans and cabbage
The simplest and most effective strategy to avoid reflux is to modify your diet. You can reduce the backflow of acid into your oesophagus by eating fewer acidic and more alkaline foods. Alkaline meals neutralise the acidic contents of your stomach. They can also help relieve reflux symptoms. Among these foods are:
- Vegetables (green or otherwise) like cucumber, carrot, coriander, cauliflower, potato, eggplant, peas, pumpkin, radish etc
- Most fruits, especially apples, bananas, figs, watermelon, and pomegranate
- Unsweetened yoghurt
- Beans, including broad beans, green beans, navy beans, lentils etc
- Nuts and seeds like flax seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, and sunflower seeds
Foods High in Water
Eating a lot of water-rich foods might dilute and weaken gastric acid. So, you can eat foods like:
- Herbal tea
- Broth-based soups
Other Ways to Prevent & Manage Heartburn
If you suffer from heartburn regularly, a combination of lifestyle modifications and medicines can help you feel better. Changes in your lifestyle, such as maintaining a healthy weight, can help alleviate your symptoms. Other changes that you can make are as follows:
- Avoid foods that trigger your heartburn or cause symptoms
- Wear loose-fitting clothes
- Avoid lying down immediately after eating
- If you smoke, speak to a healthcare practitioner about a quit smoking programme and other available resources.
You can treat heartburn with over-the-counter medicines. According to the FDA, there are three OTC drugs for managing occasional heartburn. These include:
Antacids work by reducing stomach acid and easing heartburn. You can also use these drugs to treat stomach distress, indigestion, and other stomach aches. In addition, some antacids contain simethicone, which also reduces gas. However, if you have appendicitis or bowel inflammation, avoid taking antacids. Overdose of antacids may cause the following side effects:
- Irregular bowel movements
- Cramps in the stomach
Histamine-2 (H2) Blockers
H2 blockers lower the quantity of acid your stomach produces.
Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
OTC PPIs are used to treat regular heartburn (two or more days per week). However, they do not provide rapid relief as they can take up to four days to take full action. On the other hand, prescription PPIs treat GERD, stomach and small intestine ulcers, and oesophageal inflammation. They reduce the quantity of acid produced by the stomach. If you’re taking prescription medicine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether acid reducers will interact with it.
When to Seek Medical Attention
If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor:
- If your heartburn isn’t going away
- The severity or frequency of your heartburn symptoms increases
- It’s difficult or painful to swallow
- You vomit because of your heartburn
- You’ve lost a lot of weight in a short time
- You’ve been using over-the-counter antacids for more than two weeks (or longer than the label suggests) and still have heartburn symptoms.
- Even after taking prescribed medications, you still get heartburn symptoms.
- You have severe hoarseness or wheezing problem.
- Your discomfort is interfering with your everyday routine or activities.
The Bottom Line
Heartburn affects many people and is usually not a cause for concern. However, if a person experiences heartburn regularly, they should seek medical advice. They should also make dietary adjustments, indulge in regular exercise, and posture correction, among other things. Seek emergency medical attention if you are particularly concerned about suffering from a heart attack. Otherwise, modifying your lifestyle and taking over-the-counter medications can usually alleviate symptoms.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What should I eat if I have heartburn?
A. Heartburn may result from specific foods. These foods include acidic foods or foods that do not digest early. Therefore, you should eat high fibre foods, alkaline foods and foods high in water and milk that can help reduce acid reflux.
Q. What foods usually cause heartburn?
A. The worst culprits are foods high in fat, salt, spice, or acidic foods. So, it is best to avoid these foods. It’s also good to eat small frequent meals instead of bigger, heavier meals. In addition, you should avoid late-night and bedtime snacks.
Q. What foods help acid reflux go away fast?
A. Some foods famous as home remedies for acid reflux are ginger tea, low fat or non-fat milk, lemon water and herbal teas. These foods relax the burning sensation and provide immediate relief.
Q. What should I eat to avoid heartburn?
A. The best foods to eat to avoid heartburn are foods high in fibre, high in water content and alkaline foods. Therefore, you should add whole grains, green veggies, beans, cucumber, watermelon, unsweetened yoghurt etc., to your diet.
Q. Does drinking water help heartburn?
A. Yes. Drinking water helps prevent heartburn and relieve its symptoms. In addition, frequently consuming water can improve digestion and dilute and weaken gastric acid.
Q. Why do I keep getting heartburn every day?
A. The most common reason for regular heartburn can be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It may cause frequent or continuous heartburn (more than twice a week). GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle that connects the oesophagus and the stomach. In addition, your diet and lifestyle habits may lead to frequent heartburn symptoms.
Q. What is heartburn a symptom of?
A. Heartburn is primarily a digestive disorder. However, it can also be a symptom of many health conditions, including acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and even pregnancy.
Q. Is bread okay for acid reflux?
A. You may consume whole-grain bread instead of white bread. It can help relieve acid reflux symptoms because it is high in fibre and may help absorb stomach acid.
Q. Is cheese bad for reflux?
A. Foods high in fats may aggravate heartburn symptoms because they take longer to digest. Since cheese is high in fat, it can exacerbate your symptoms.
Q. Is Apple bad for acid reflux?
A. Although apples are typically safe to consume, some varieties may cause acid reflux symptoms. In most cases, red apples do not cause an increase in symptoms. However, green apples are more acidic, which might be harmful to some people. In addition, consuming apples alone and on an empty stomach may also cause acid reflux.
Q. Is banana good for acidity?
A. Yes. Banana is a low-acid fruit that coats an irritated esophageal lining to help neutralise stomach acid. Bananas are alkaline and high in pectin, a soluble fibre that aids in the smooth passage of food through the digestive tract. It can help you feel fuller for longer, reducing your chances of overeating.
Q. What tea is good for acid reflux?
A. Herbal teas like chamomile, liquorice, slippery elm, and marshmallow can soothe GERD and heartburn symptoms. Therefore, you should have herbal tea for immediate relief.
Q. What fruit is good for acid reflux?
A. Melons like watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew are good for acid reflux due to their high water content. In addition, all low-acid fruits are best for acid reflux.
Q. Are eggs acidic?
A. Yes. Fresh egg yolk has a pH of about 6.0, which rises to 6.4 to 6.9 after storage. Hence, eating this while suffering from heartburn can aggravate your symptoms.
Q. Is honey good for acid reflux and heartburn?
A. Honey is considered to be a safe, effective way to treat acid reflux. Honey is high in natural antioxidants, which help maintain cell health.
Q. Does yoghurt help with acid reflux?
A. Because of the bacteria that help restore intestinal function, non-sour yoghurt is suitable for acid reflux. Yoghurt also contains protein and relieves stomach discomfort by cooling the stomach.