Heartburn, the regurgitation of stomach acids into your throat and esophagus, can creep up and make you uncomfortable at the most inconvenient times. Whether you’re diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or occasionally experience symptoms of heartburn after eating a spicy meal, acid reflux can be rather unpleasant.
Certain foods can trigger heartburn symptoms. These can include:
- spicy foods
- citrus fruits
- fried or fatty foods
- tomato products
- caffeinated drinks
- carbonated drinks
Being overweight or a smoker may put you at a higher risk of having heartburn. Many women also get heartburn during pregnancy.
Symptoms of heartburn can include:
- burning sensation in the throat, abdomen, or chest
- trouble swallowing
- regurgitation of acid or food
- sore throat
- frequent burping
Learning some quick relief methods and tips can nip your symptoms in the bud. However, speak to your doctor if heartburn becomes a recurring issue. Prescription medications and lifestyle changes can help manage your condition and prevent bouts of heartburn.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible when the burning sensation of acid indigestion strikes. Heartburn can intensify when pressure is applied to your stomach, as this can cause stomach acids to flow backwards and weaken the lower esophageal sphincter (LES); the LES acts like a tight rubber band that usually prevents stomach contents from going back up your esophagus.
Normally, after you eat, the LES closes tightly to keep stomach acids in your stomach, where they belong. A weak LES can open or loosen. This can allow the acids to reflux into the upper area of your digestive system.
To help prevent this from happening after a meal:
- avoid tight-fitting pants or skirts
- loosen or remove snug belts
- wear comfortable, flowing tops that don’t constrict your abdomen
Relief may not come immediately, and you may need to take additional preventive steps. However, removing any outside pressure from your stomach can help.
Reclining soon after eating can increase your risk of acid reflux and associated symptoms. Instead, keep yourself upright for at least three hours after meals and snacks, to minimize symptoms. Be conscious of your body position when the telltale signs of heartburn, such as the familiar burning or sore throat, begin.
Sit up straight or stand if you catch yourself in a slouchy position after a heavy meal. Correcting your posture early may help stop troublesome symptoms before they become full-blown. Adjust the timing of your meals or your bedtime if late-night heartburn seems to strike often.
One of the substances in your saliva is bicarbonate, the same active ingredient in baking soda that neutralizes acids. Pop a piece of chewing gum the next time you’ve got the distinct sour and acidic taste of heartburn in your mouth.
A 2014 study focusing on GutsyGum, a gum developed specifically to treat heartburn, found that chewing gum is effective in reducing symptoms from heartburn. Chewing gum stimulates salivation and can also increase the concentration of bicarbonate in your saliva. A higher concentration of this substance in your body can reduce or prevent the symptoms of acid reflux.
Make sure to pick a gum product that lists bicarbonate in the ingredients for the best results. You can find these varieties near the toothpaste section at your local store or pharmacy. Regular gum can also be a quick remedy for heartburn.
Protect yourself from tooth decay by choosing sugarless varieties, and avoid peppermint chewing gum when possible. Natural peppermint flavoring can worsen symptoms.
Get quick relief from heartburn by taking an over-the-counter (OTC) antacid. These medications, in chewable tablet or liquid forms, neutralize stomach acids quickly by coating your stomach with one or more of these minerals and chemicals:
- calcium carbonate
- alginic acid
Consult your doctor before adding an OTC antacid if you take prescription-strength H2 blockers (acid reducers) such as ranitidine (Zantac) or proton-pump inhibitors (PPI) like omeprazole (Prilosec). You still may be able to take antacids, but might have to time your medications carefully to avoid drug interactions.
Acid reducers and PPI drugs are usually taken before you eat to prevent rather than treat heartburn.
Stress can heighten chronic heartburn or produce symptoms in people who don’t normally experience gastrointestinal problems. Reducing stress may also help relieve heartburn in those who suffer from occasional and mild cases of acid reflux.
The Mayo Clinic suggests the following alternative methods for alleviating your stress and heartburn:
- exercising (gentle, not vigorous which may exacerbate symptoms)
- listening to music
- practicing aromatherapy (use of aromatic plant oils to improve mood)
- utilizing hypnosis or visualization techniques
- getting a massage
If these suggestions don’t appeal to you but you have a hunch that your heartburn is related to stress take whatever steps necessary to alleviate your stress. This may include seeing a therapist or counselor. Your acid reflux may calm down when your mind does.