What is heartburn?
Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is feeling a burning pain in the chest or throat. Heartburn often occurs when acid from the stomach escapes and rises up into your esophagus. This can happen when the lower sphincter muscle (LES), a muscle located between your stomach and esophagus, is weak or isn’t able to close properly. The lining of your esophagus is not designed to protect against stomach acid in the same way that the lining of your stomach is. Therefore, you may feel pain as a result as of the acid getting in contact with lining.
The symptoms of heartburn
Most people only suffer from heartburn occasionally and may be able to let it pass on its own. Others who suffer more frequently may take medication to help relieve symptoms. Apart from the obvious burning sensation at the back of the throat, there are other symptoms to be aware of such as:
- A horrible burning feeling in the chest1
- Difficulty when swallowing1
- An acidic taste in the mouth or the back of the throat
Causes of heartburn
Heartburn can occur for many different reasons. First, as mentioned above, a weakened lower esophageal sphincter can often cause heartburn. Other reasons can include dietary and lifestyle factors.
Here are some common causes of heartburn:
The way you eat
- Eating large meals can cause your stomach to produce too much acid and with no space for it to go, pressure may cause the acid to escape up into the esophagus
- Eating right before you go to bed can cause heartburn because when you are lying down, it is easier for stomach acid to rise into your esophagus
- Eating in a rush or gulping down your food can mean you are not chewing it properly. This makes it more difficult to digest your food and to counteract this, your stomach creates more stomach acid.
The types of food you eat
- Fatty foods tend to stay in your stomach longer because fats are slower to digest
- Eating spicy foods can mean you are more likely to experience heartburn
- Foods such as chocolates and mint may have a relaxant effect on the lower sphincter muscle meaning that stomach acid can easily escape back up
The types of drinks you drink
- The bubbles in fizzy drinks may increase pressure inside the stomach2
- Consuming alcohol can cause the lower sphincter muscle to relax allowing stomach acid to rise3
- Drinking caffeine can increase your chances of acid reflux and heartburn
- Citrus juices such as orange or grapefruit juice may also be a trigger because these contain high level of acidity in them
- Stress has been linked as a potential cause for heartburn
- Some medicines such as those for heart problems, asthma and high blood pressure may lead to heartburn as a side effect
- Being overweight can put great pressure on your stomach and can also weaken the LES3
- Similar to chocolate and mint, smoking can cause the LES to relax
- Wearing clothes that are tight around your waist and abdomen can lead to heartburn
- Hormonal and physical changes; such as the pressure of a baby on the digestive tract and stomach during pregnancy can cause heartburn
Whilst all of these things can contribute to heartburn, the triggers and symptoms of heartburn differ from person to person.
Simply putting up with your heartburn and allowing it to go untreated might eventually lead to other more severe problems in the future. These might include:
- Damage to your esophagus: If stomach acid repeatedly comes into contact with your esophagus, the sensitive lining can become damaged. The acid can wear away and erode the tissue which could lead to bleeding or painful ulcers on the esophageal lining.
- Barrett's esophagus: In some cases, long-term exposure of the esophageal lining to stomach acid can lead to a condition known as Barrett's esophagus – where abnormal cells develop in the lining and these cells can potentially become cancerous. However, this is very rare.
- Esophageal scarring: Persistent or severe heartburn can lead to scarring and narrowing of the esophagus. This can make swallowing difficult and may require an operation to correct it.4
How to relieve heartburn
To relieve symptoms of heartburn, or to help prevent it from occurring, consider the self-help tips below:
- Cut down on portion sizes: Try eating meals of smaller portions more frequently rather than three big meals a day
- Avoid food triggers: Take note of your heartburn triggers and do your best to avoid them (fatty foods, spicy foods and caffeinated drinks are some of the most common culprits)
- Take your time: Eating slowly and chewing each mouthful carefully can help to avoid heartburn
- Wear loose fitting clothes: Tight waistlines can put pressure on your stomach so opt for looser garments
- Quit smoking: Cigarette smoke is known to relax the LES that is why you should consider quitting5
There are also several treatment options from your doctor which may help in relatively long periods of time. They may prescribe medications such as acid suppressants to reduce the amount of acid that your stomach produces preventing heartburn.
There several treatments are available over the counter if you decide not to visit your GP but are still looking for some kind of relief. This is often the first solution for many heartburn sufferers. If you are looking for fast over-the-counter relief, try Gaviscon Double Action.
Gaviscon Double Action
Gaviscon Double Action gets to work quickly as fast as 5 minutes. It works to neutralise the unwanted, excess acid in your stomach whilst forming a protective barrier, or raft, on the top of the contents of your stomach. This physical barrier helps to keep stomach contents and the acid in place.
Gaviscon Double Action can provide long-lasting relief up to 4 hours. In fact, Gaviscon lasts twice as long as some other antacid treatments.
Gaviscon Double Action can be purchased over the counter from pharmacies.
Sodium Alginate + Sodium Bicarbonate + Calcium Carbonate is the generic name of Gaviscon Double Action.
If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.
When to see a doctor
Heartburn doesn’t need to be a long term problem. If you are worried because your symptoms are not improving, set an appointment and visit your pharmacist or GP for more information.
All information presented is not meant to diagnose or prescribe Gaviscon Double Action for Heartburn & Indigestion. Always read the label. If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.
ASC Reference code: R012P101217G
Article published 11 January 2021