Have you ever felt a burning pain in your chest? Well, it’s probably heartburn. The pain is often worse when lying down or bending over. Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm. Most people can manage the discomfort on their own with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications, or alternative remedies. (Note: Seek immediate help if you experience severe chest pain or pressure as it may be a symptom of a heart attack.)
You should be concerned about heartburn and make an appointment with your doctor when:
- Heartburn occurs more than twice a week
- Symptoms persist despite use of over-the-counter medications
- You have difficulty swallowing
- You have persistent nausea or vomiting
- You have weight loss because of poor appetite or difficulty eating
Many over-the-counter medications can help relieve heartburn. The options include:
- Antacids, which help neutralize stomach acid. Antacids may provide quick relief, but they can’t heal an esophagus damaged by stomach acid.
- H-2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs), which can reduce stomach acid. H2RAs don’t act as quickly as antacids, but may provide longer relief.
- Proton pump inhibitors, such as Nexium and Prilosec OTC, which also can reduce stomach acid.
If over-the-counter treatments don’t work or you rely on them often, see your doctor. You may need prescription medication.
Lifestyle changes can help ease heartburn, too:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus.
- Avoid tightfitting clothing, which puts pressure on your abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Avoid foods that trigger your heartburn, such as:
- Spicy foods
- Citrus products
- Tomato products, such as ketchup
- Fatty or fried foods
- Alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee, or other caffeinated beverages
- Large or fatty meals
- Avoid lying down after a meal. Wait at least three hours.
- Avoid late meals.
- Elevate the head of your bed if you regularly experience heartburn at night or while trying to sleep. If that’s not possible, insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. Raising your head with additional pillows usually isn’t effective.
- Avoid smoking. Smoking decreases the lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly.
There are alternative therapies and home remedies for heartburn that you can also try:
- Chewing gum: Besides eliminating garlic breath, chewing gum after a meal might have other advantages. In a small study from the Journal of Dental Research, people with heartburn symptoms experienced heartburn relief when they chewed a piece of sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after a meal.
- Aloe: Aloe, a plant usually used to soothe burns, could do the same thing for stomachs. Aloe vera juice reduces inflammation so it quiets down any inflammation that is in the esophagus as well as the stomach. For heartburn, it is recommended that you drink 1/2 cup before meals. Be warned that the juice can be a laxative. Look for brands that say the laxative component has been removed.
- Slippery elm: Despite limited research, slippery elm has been used in herbal remedies for centuries to treat a variety of illnesses, including heartburn symptoms. This tree extract thickens the layer of mucus lining the stomach, creating a stronger barrier against acid. The way slippery elm has traditionally been used is a couple tablespoons in water after meals and at bedtime.
Reduce Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety and stress can worsen heartburn symptoms. If your heartburn is worsened by anxiety and stress, consider trying:
- Listening to music
- Relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery