Noticed a burning sensation in your chest? It may be heartburn. Learn more about the causes & what may help at home…
Heartburn is extremely common, affecting up to 1 in 4 UK adults. While there’s not always a clear reason why we get it from time to time, there are factors that can make it worse. Here, we take a closer look at what these are and the steps you can take to help reduce symptoms.
What is heartburn & what does heartburn feel like?
Let’s begin with a science recap. Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, which is where stomach acid travels up towards the throat, causing an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest.
When experiencing heartburn, it’s also common to have an unpleasant sour taste in the back of our throat, which is caused by stomach acid. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours and are usually worse after eating or when lying down.
Other common symptoms of acid reflux, as outlined by the NHS, include:
What causes heartburn?
Sometimes appearing out of the blue with what seems like no obvious reason, the cause of acid reflux and thus, heartburn, can be tricky to identify. The NHS has listed several common factors that can lead to heartburn, or make heartburn worse, including:
• Particular foods and drinks (such as coffee, alcohol, tomatoes, chocolate and spicy or high-fat foods)
• Being overweight
• Stress and anxiety
• Certain medicines (such as anti-inflammatory painkillers)
• A hiatus hernia (where part of the stomach moves up into the chest)
If it happens regularly, it’s called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
How to help reduce heartburn
Thankfully, there are several easy lifestyle changes that may help relieve heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. These include:
• Eating smaller, more frequent meals
• Trying to maintain a healthy weight
• Trying to find ways to relax and avoid stress
• Raise yourself up using pillows, so that your chest and head are above the level of your waist – this can help stop stomach acid from travelling up towards your throat
Try to avoid:
• Foods and drinks that trigger your heartburn symptoms
• Drinking too much alcohol
• Eating within three hours before going to bed
• Wearing clothes that are tight around the waist, as this may be compressing your stomach
As well as lifestyle changes, you can pop in store to speak to a Boots pharmacist for advice. They may recommend considering over-the-counter medications, such as antacids and protein pump inhibitors (PPI). Antacids work by neutralising the acid in your stomach to help provide quick relief from heartburn and indigestion for a few hours (always check the instructions to see how much antacid to take and how often), while PPIs reduce how much acid your stomach makes. However, these don’t address the root cause and long-term use is discouraged. Always read the product information leaflet before use and if you have any queries speak to your pharmacist.
When to consult your GP
Consult your GP if you get frequent heartburn and suffer from it most days for three weeks or more, it continues to persist after making the above lifestyle changes and/or taking over- the-counter medicines, or you get other symptoms, such as food getting stuck in your throat, vomiting or unexplained weight loss. Your GP can rule out any more serious causes of your symptoms and may also prescribe alternative treatment, including PPI, which can be prescribed for daily use over a longer period of time.
If symptoms return after stopping your medication, it is recommended to go back to your GP as you may require a long-term prescription.
And if prescribed medicines don’t help, a GP may refer you to a specialist for tests to find out if there’s an underlying cause by doing a gastroscopy (where a camera on a thin tube is carefully passed down your throat) or an operation called a laparoscopic fundoplication to help stop acid reflux.
Heartburn products to consider
For more advice on heartburn, including which remedies could suit your symptoms, pop in store for a chat with a Boots pharmacist.