Originally appeared in the article, "How to Get Rid of Heartburn Quickly" by Amy Capetta in Prevention Magazine on April 19, 2022.
If you’ve been experiencing a burning feeling in your chest or throat at night, you’re not alone. According to statistics reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 60 million Americans deal with heartburn at least once a month—and research indicates that some adults suffer from heartburn symptoms on a daily basis—which is why knowing how to get rid of heartburn (and reduce symptoms) is so important!
“Heartburn is the sensation of burning in the middle of the chest when acid from the stomach gets into the food pipe,” says Mark Pimentel, M.D., board-certified gastroenterologist at Cedars-Sinai, co-founder of The Good LFE and author of The Microbiome Connection.
Photo Credit: KINGA KRZEMINSKA
Also referred to as acid indigestion, this uncomfortable reaction may present itself as a bitter taste in the mouth, while symptoms typically occur after eating and/or usually at nighttime, states Vivek Cherian, M.D., a Chicago-based internal medicine physician. “While not always the case, pain oftentimes can worsen when you bend over or lie down,” he adds.
In fact, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart and is actually a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux or GERD, a more severe and long-lasting condition that could lead to complications over time, as defined by the NIH. “While the classic symptom of GERD is heartburn, this symptom is only seen in about 50% of people with GERD,” states Dr. Pimentel.
Let’s dive into tips for how to get rid of heartburn fast—and reasons you might get heartburn in the first place.
How to prevent heartburn
If heartburn has set your chest or throat aflame, here are a few remedies that may help extinguish the fire:
Cinching your waist with a belt or squeezing into tummy-control shapewear may be further aggravating your digestive system. Do yourself a favor—take off anything that’s form-fitting and change into a comfy (a.k.a. baggy) top and bottom. “Tight clothes can put pressure on your stomach triggering heartburn,” says Dr. Cherian.
Sit up straight
While you may feel like curling up in bed or sprawling out on the couch, being flat on your back could exacerbate symptoms. Dr. Pimentel warns not to lie down right after eating and Dr. Cherian adds to avoid lying down for at least two to three hours after consuming a meal. Instead, sit (or stand) in an upright position and allow gravity to keep bile and acids from traveling back up into the esophagus.
Put down the pinot
According to a meta-analysis of 29 studies published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, researchers found an association between drinking alcohol and the risk of GERD, where those who drank wine, beer, or spirits more frequently were shown to be at a higher risk. Furthermore, a review published in the journal Best Practice & Research: Clinical Gastroenterology states that both alcohol and tobacco can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter or LES, a ring of muscles located at the bottom of the esophagus where it meets the stomach, causing stomach acids to flow backwards.
Grab yourself a stick of gum. Years ago, researchers from London discovered that volunteers who were instructed to consume a meal that would normally induce gastric reflux were less likely to deal with heartburn symptoms after chewing sugar-free gum for 30 minutes after eating. Then a study published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility suggested that gum chewing increases salivary flow rate, which may neutralize stomach acid. However, skip the peppermint flavored gum since peppermint is a potential trigger food.
Sip this tea
An ancient herb that has been relied on to aid in relaxation and promote better sleep, chamomile may serve as a comforting beverage during heartburn. A review published in the international journal Molecular Medicine Reports highlighted that chamomile is used traditionally for multiple gastro conditions, such as digestive disorders and gastrointestinal irritation, and can be “especially helpful” in soothing the stomach and relaxing the muscles that move food through the intestines.
Consider an herbal supplement
Researchers from Italy gathered 118 adults who were suffering from moderate GERD symptoms at least twice a week. During the two-month clinical trial, some of the volunteers were given a placebo while others were offered Mucosave™️, a blend of extracts containing polysaccharides of prickle pear cladodes and olive leaves. According to their findings, which were published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, this formula provided “an effective and well-tolerated treatment” for reducing the frequency and intensity of GERD symptoms, including heartburn.
Use a wedge pillow
Gravity is one of our biggest protections against acid reflux, states the ACG. So once it’s time to go to bed, lie down on an incline. “Sleeping at an angle—one that keeps your head elevated—can help stomach acid from backing up,” explains Dr. Cherian. An article published in the journal Missouri Medicine states that the “only proven lifestyle modification” to manage GERD is “head of bed elevation” since it’s been shown to decrease the frequency of stomach acid moving back up into the esophagus.
Head to the pharmacy
When lifestyle modifications aren’t enough, over-the-counter meds will likely alleviate the discomfort. “There are several classes of medications that can help relieve heartburn, including proton-pump inhibitors (PPI), such as omeprazole, and H2 receptor antagonists [also referred to as H2 blockers, like Pepcid AC], both of which can reduce the amount of stomach acid, followed by antacids, such as Tums, [which can neutralize stomach acidity],” says Dr. Cherian. “While antacids may provide the quickest relief, they will not help heal a damaged esophagus caused by stomach acid.”
If you’re depending on OTC meds for heartburn more than twice a week, the ACG recommends discussing these symptoms with your physician.
Common causes of heartburn
The occasional bout of heartburn could be brought on by a number of factors, starting with the number on the scale. Being overweight is a leading cause of reflux, says Dr. Pimentel, while Dr. Cherian explains that additional pressure on the abdomen (including pregnancy) can “essentially force acid up into your esophagus.”
Certain foods have also been shown to trigger heartburn, such as chocolate, coffee, peppermint, greasy foods, spicy foods, and tomato products, according to the America College of Gastroenterology (ACG). There’s also a chance that a prescription medicine could be the culprit.
“One of the first things we look at are possible medication side effects since certain meds, like pain and anti-inflammatory medications, can contribute to heartburn,” says Dr. Cherian.