What Really Causes Heartburn

Heartburn is a painful, burning sensation in the chest that can also move up to your throat (via MedlinePlus). It is the result of stomach acid that has backed up into the esophagus, or the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Normally, when you swallow food or liquids, a band of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus relaxes to allow the contents to pass to your stomach. Afterward, it tightens up again. But when the esophageal sphincter weakens or relaxes abnormally at other times, stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn. The feeling may be worse when you bend over or lie down.

Certain foods are known to trigger heartburn in some people. These include spicy foods, fatty or fried foods, citrus products, onions, tomatoes, peppermint, chocolate, carbonated drinks, alcohol, and coffee. Pregnant women and people who are overweight are also more likely to experience heartburn.

What to do if you have heartburn

Heartburn is very common and everyone may experience symptoms occasionally. Many over-the-counter medications, such as antacids, H-2-receptor antagonists, and proton pump inhibitors, can help ease symptoms of heartburn. If you have experience frequent heartburn, however, you should see your doctor as this can be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (via Mayo Clinic).

Diet and lifestyle changes can also help prevent and manage symptoms of heartburn (via Cleveland Clinic). One of the first steps is to avoid overeating and cut back on foods you know trigger your heartburn. Don't go to bed with a full stomach and eat meals at least three to four hours before lying down. Belts and tight-fitting clothing can lead to heartburn so it's best to wear clothes that are loose. Raise the head of your bed so your head and chest are above your feet. Finally, maintain a healthy weight and don't smoke.