Heartburn is a deep pain felt behind your breastbone. Occasional heartburn isn't a cause for alarm, and most sufferers can manage their symptoms with over-the-counter remedies and simple lifestyle changes. However, severe or frequent heartburn that disrupts your daily routine can be excruciating and could indicate an underlying condition that needs medical attention.
It’s important to note that certain types of food and drink, vigorous exercise, eating too quickly, smoking, and taking certain medications can increase the frequency and severity of heartburn. Pregnant women or people suffering from a hiatal hernia may also experience painful heartburn and acid reflux. Keep reading to identify the most common causes of heartburn to help manage your symptoms.
7 Heartburn Triggers
Knowing the common causes of heartburn and your own triggers means you can make healthy lifestyle choices that lower the risk of triggering a painful heartburn episode. Below we have revealed seven heartburn triggers to be aware of so you can identify what might be contributing to your pain. You can also discover everything you need to know about quick heartburn relief, or take a look at TUMS antacid.
Did you know everyday habits, such as strenuous exercise and how you eat can lead to heartburn? Workouts that put pressure on the abdomen, such as heavy lifting and stomach crunches, can increase the risk of heartburn as they can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle, which can lead to food or stomach acid coming back up into the esophagus1. When it comes to diet, overeating can cause your stomach to distend, increasing the chance of acid reflux which causes heartburn. Eating too rapidly can also trigger heartburn2, meaning it’s important to chew your food slowly. Not only will your body better digest your meals, but you may suffer from heartburn less too.
Some types of food can trigger heartburn. Spicy foods, citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons, and fried or high-fat foods have been found to cause heartburn. Even healthier high-fat foods including avocados and cheese pose a risk.3 Try to avoid eating peppermint and chocolate too, as these are also heartburn triggers. Learn more about the foods that cause heartburn.
Avoiding coffee and caffeinated beverages such as sports energy drinks can help reduce the risk of heartburn. It's best to moderate alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine, which can increase stomach acid levels. Alcohol has also been shown to relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle. The LES acts as a barrier between your food pipe (esophagus) and your stomach. By not closing fully after food has entered the stomach, acid can travel up the esophagus, sparking common heartburn symptoms.4 Drinking carbonated drinks can also increase heartburn, especially at night.
Some common medications, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, can cause heartburn as a side effect.5 Always read the label and consult your doctor when starting new medications if you suffer from heartburn.
Indigestion and heartburn are common in pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters. Heartburn in pregnancy is due to increased levels of the hormone progesterone, which cause the LES muscle to relax. As your pregnancy progresses, your growing baby places increased pressure on your stomach, again raising the risk of heartburn.6
Find out more about taking TUMS while pregnant.
Being overweight or smoking can trigger heartburn. Nicotine, a key part of tobacco, is thought to relax the ring of muscle in the lower esophagus that keeps acid in the stomach, where it belongs.7 Being overweight can increase the pressure from belly fat on your stomach, leading to heartburn.8 Find out more about how your lifestyle can trigger heartburn.
Heartburn is one of the main symptoms of a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia is a medical condition where the upper part of the stomach moves above the diaphragm, which results in acid reflux. Many people aren't aware they are suffering from a hiatal hernia.9 If you experience frequent heartburn, seek advice from your doctor or healthcare professional.
What Causes Heartburn at Night?
Did you know nighttime heartburn affects four out of five people who suffer frequent heartburn and acid reflux? This could result from trigger foods, tight clothing pressing on your stomach, or even lying on the right side of your body in bed. It is thought you can minimise your risk of nighttime heartburn by sleeping on your left side, though the reason is not entirely clearX. Heartburn is often accompanied by an acidic or bitter taste in your mouth. This is because heartburn is caused by stomach acid flowing up into the esophagus — the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.
Chronic Heartburn Causes
You may have chronic heartburn (also known as constant heartburn) if you experience pain and burning in your chest every time you finish a meal. If you think you may be suffering with chronic heartburn, it’s really important to consult with your doctor or healthcare professional for treatment advice.
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- 6 Tips to Ease Exercise Heartburn. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/features/6-tips-ease-exercise-heartburn#1 accessed 09/12/2019.
- Eating Food Too Fast Speeds Heartburn. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/news/20030523/eating-food-too-fast-speeds-heartburn. Accessed 10/24/2019.
- 11 Foods That Cause Heartburn. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-that-cause-heartburn#section1. Accessed 08/28/19.
- 11 Foods That Cause Heartburn. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-that-cause-heartburn#section1. Accessed 10/24/2019.
- GERD: Can certain medications increase severity? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/expert-answers/heartburn-gerd/faq-20058535. Accessed 10/24/2019.
- Heartburn During Pregnancy. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/guide/heartburn-during-pregnancy. Accessed 10/24/2019.
- Why Tobacco May Make Heartburn Worse. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/features/heartburn-tobacco-connection#1. Accessed 08/28/19.
- Obesity & Heartburn: What is the Link?. Obesity Action Coalition. https://www.obesityaction.org/community/article-library/obesity-heartburn-what-is-the-link/. Accessed 08/28/19.
- Hiatal Hernias and Acid Reflux. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/gerd/hiatal-hernia. Accessed 10/24/2019.
- 12 Tips for Nighttime Heartburn. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/features/nighttime-heartburn-sleep-tips#1. Accessed 10/24/2019.
Learn More About Heartburn
Explore these sections for more about identifying and treating heartburn.