Why am I having heartburn?

Heartburn happens when stomach acid washes up into the esophagus (food tube), causing burning and pain in the throat and chest. This can be due to a variety of causes, including:

  • eating certain foods (such as spicy or fatty foods, chocolate, onions, coffee, peppermint, and acidic juices)
  • overeating
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • lying down after a meal
  • wearing clothes that fit tightly around the waist
  • being overweight
  • stress
  • a medical condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • certain medications (such as narcotics, some blood pressure medications, and benzodiazepines)
  • pregnancy (if you think you might be pregnant, take a pregnancy test and check with your doctor before using any products to treat your heartburn - not all products are safe for pregnant women)

How can I get relief?

Visit your local pharmacy. There you'll find many non-prescription products to help relieve heartburn, such as:

  • bismuth subsalicylate
  • Antacids containing calcium carbonate or magnesium hydroxide plus aluminum hydroxide
  • alginic acid-antacid combinations containing alginic acid plus magnesium carbonate or aluminum hydroxide
  • non-prescription strength acid blockers containing famotidine or ranitidine

When trying a non-prescription product, be sure the product is right for you. Always read and follow the label. Check with your pharmacist if you have any questions.

There are also some simple lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of heartburn (these things are also good for your overall health):

  • eat smaller, more frequent meals
  • avoid lying down after eating
  • don't eat within 3 hours of bedtime
  • avoid clothes that fit tightly around your waist
  • if you're overweight, try to lose weight
  • avoid foods that bring on your heartburn
  • quit smoking
  • drink less coffee and other caffeinated beverages
  • drink less alcohol
  • learn new ways to manage the stress in your life

Usually, you can take care of your heartburn at home using products from your local pharmacy. But heartburn symptoms can sometimes signal something more serious. Talk to your doctor if you're over 50 years old, if your heartburn lasts more than 2 weeks, or if you have persistent vomiting; vomiting blood; blood in the stool or black tarry stools (keep in mind that bismuth subsalicylate can darken the stool); difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing; unexplained weight loss or fatigue; or chest pain that moves to the back, neck, jaw, shoulder, or arm.

These tips are intended for adults. If your baby or child has heartburn, get medical advice.