Heartburn happens when stomach acid flows backward, up into your esophagus. This backward flow is called reflux. You don’t need to suffer in silence. Ask your pharmacist about heartburn, and lifestyle changes, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can provide relief.
To decide if you have heartburn or a more serious condition, see below.
After meals do you sometimes feel a warmth or pain at your breastbone?
Do you sometimes have an acid taste in the back of your throat?
Do you ever feel that food is coming back into your mouth?
When you lie down do you get these feelings?
Do these feelings go away when you take antacids or OTC acid blockers?
If you answered yes to any or all, then you have heartburn.
Is your heartburn severe?
Do you have heartburn two or more times each week?
Has it lasted for several months?
Do you regularly take medications for it—and it still comes back?
If you answered yes, you may have a more serious problem.
Three Myths About Heartburn
Myth #1: Heartburn is no big deal.
Fact:Heartburn can severely limit what you do and how you do it.
Myth #2: Heartburn is my fault.
Fact:You didn’t cause it, but you can lessen its pain and inconvenience.
Myth #3: Heartburn is not a serious medical problem.
Fact:Heartburn can progress to cause more serious problems including: inflammation and ulcers in your esophagus and changes in the cells of the esophagus lining.
Never ignore severe or persistent heartburn. Tests can be done to find out if your heartburn has led to any more serious health problems.
Watch What And How You Eat
Avoid certain foods, such as citrus fruits, tomato products, fatty or greasy foods, chocolates, peppermints, vinegar, spicy foods, garlic, raw onions, and black or red pepper.
Stay away from certain beverages—especially on an empty stomach.
Eat smaller meals each day.
For 2-3 hours after eating, avoid lying down, bending over repeatedly, or doing vigorous exercise.
Change Your Sleeping Routine
Raise the head of your bed at least 6 inches using a mattress wedge.
Do not eat or snack within 2-3 hours before going to bed.
Change Your Habits
If you smoke, stop.
If you are overweight, lose weight.
Avoid tight-fitting, restrictive clothes.
One of your prescription or OTC medications may cause heartburn. Matching your symptoms to the proper medication is important.
Do you get heartburn once in a while? An OTC medication, such as an antacid or H2 blocker, may work.
Antacids neutralize stomach acid. They work quickly and give temporary relief that lasts 1-2 hours. H2 blockers reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes. They give relief that lasts 6-12 hours. Some brands are Tagamet HB®, Pepcid® AC, Axid® AR, and Zantac 75®.
Heartburn occurring two or more days a week is called frequent heartburn. To treat it, you might need a medication called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). One PPI, Prilosec OTC™, is the only OTC medication indicated for frequent heartburn. For prescription PPIs (including Prevacid®, Aciphex®, and Protonix®), you will need to contact your health care provider. Prescription PPIs block your stomach’s production of nearly all acid, leaving just enough for normal digestion of food.
You may hesitate to contact your primary health care provider about heartburn. However, if lifestyle changes and OTC medications don’t ease your discomfort, they can offer several other treatment options.