If it feels like everything you eat is giving you heartburn, you should consult with a doctor. It could be related to diet, pregnancy, or aging. But it may also be due to medications you take or an underlying condition like GERD.
Heartburn is an uncomfortable, burning pain in your chest and throat. Occasional heartburn is common. But if you have heartburn more than twice a week, it can be a much greater nuisance.
You might feel heartburn after every meal. You may even experience it when you haven’t eaten. When heartburn becomes frequent, it can interfere with your daily activities and hamper sleep.
You can often resolve frequent heartburn by making lifestyle changes and taking medication. But in some cases, an underlying condition that requires medical treatment may be the cause.
In this article, we’ll review the causes and treatments of frequent heartburn. We’ll also discuss management and prevention strategies, and when to see a healthcare professional.
Heartburn is the result of acid reflux. Your stomach produces acid during digestion. When you eat or drink, the muscles of the esophagus, which lead into the stomach, relax.
Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a valve located at the bottom of your esophagus, doesn’t tighten back up or close properly. This allows stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn and inflammation.
In some instances, foul-tasting stomach acid may also flow up into the mouth. This may be more likely to occur when you bend over. It may also happen if you’re lying flat on your stomach.
Certain foods may trigger, prolong, or intensify heartburn in people who are sensitive to them. Food triggers vary from person to person. But they typically include spicy or acidic foods and high fat or fried foods that are hard to digest.
Foods and drinks that can cause heartburn include:
- carbonated sodas
- salad dressings and marinades that contain vinegar
- tomato sauce and other tomato products
- garlic and onions
- spicy cuisine
- fatty foods like fast-food hamburgers
- fried chicken or fish
- citrus fruits and juices
- alcoholic beverages
Why do I get heartburn when I haven’t eaten?
Acid can build up in your stomach when it’s empty. If you haven’t eaten for several hours, this buildup of digestive fluid can lead to acid reflux, causing heartburn. Nausea and hunger pain may also result.
Frequent heartburn is most commonly associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a more serious form of acid reflux. In GERD, the reflux is chronic.
In addition to GERD, other conditions that cause heartburn include:
- obesity or overweight
- stress or anxiety
- hiatal hernia
- eosinophilic esophagitis
Some prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications may increase acid reflux or irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing heartburn. Certain supplements may also have this effect.
Drugs that can cause heartburn include:
- antibiotics such as clindamycin
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- iron supplements
- opioids and other narcotics
- metformin (Glucophage)
- calcium channel blockers
- sedatives such as Valium
Talk with a healthcare professional if you have heartburn and suspect it’s due to medication. They can help you weigh the benefits of the drug versus the risks. Do not stop taking any prescription medication without a doctor’s approval.
Heartburn during pregnancy is a common occurrence that can happen during any trimester. If you’re pregnant with multiples (twins or greater), your chances of having pregnancy-related heartburn may be even higher.
During the first trimester, your digestive process starts to slow down. This enables your body to absorb and store enough nutrients to nourish the fetus. Heartburn is a common result.
As your pregnancy continues, your stomach expands and shifts position. This can increase the frequency and intensity of heartburn.
These side effects resolve when the pregnancy ends.
Even people with an “iron stomach” in their youth can get heartburn when they age. There are several potential causes of heartburn and acid reflux in older adults.
As you age, your muscles weaken. This includes the LES. A weakened LES can allow stomach acid to spill back into your esophagus more easily.
You may also find yourself taking more medications than you did when you were younger. Some of these may have heartburn as a side effect.
Medical conditions, such as hiatal hernias, are more common in older adults. Weight gain may also be a factor.
Let a doctor know if you get heartburn more than twice a week. You may have a condition, such as GERD, that can worsen if left untreated.
A healthcare professional may also be able to recommend lifestyle changes and prescribe medications that make heartburn less likely to occur.
If your doctor prescribes heartburn medication, be sure to take it as prescribed. OTC medications can also help.
Heartburn medications include:
Lifestyle changes can also be highly beneficial for managing and reducing heartburn. Try the following:
- Avoid eating food or drinking water close to bedtime.
- Avoid foods that trigger heartburn.
- Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink.
- If you smoke, try to stop.
- Maintain a moderate weight.
- Sleep on your left-hand side.
- Sleep with your upper body elevated.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing.
The same strategies that help manage heartburn can also help prevent heartburn. Make sure to talk with a healthcare professional if preventive measures, such as avoiding trigger foods and weight loss, are ineffective.
Several things can cause you to experience heartburn more frequently than typical. Acid reflux becomes more common with age and during pregnancy, but there could be a more serious cause.
In many instances, an underlying condition such as GERD may be a cause. Talking with a healthcare professional can help you identify the root cause of your condition.
If you have frequent heartburn, lifestyle changes can be highly beneficial. OTC and prescription medications are also available.