Heartburn (also called indigestion) is a burning pain or discomfort in the chest, usually felt after eating.
It occurs when stomach acids rise up into the oesophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach) due to the valve between the lower end of the oesophagus and the stomach not closing tightly. This valve normally opens to let food down into the stomach but then closes again to stop acid moving from the stomach up into the oesophagus.
While anyone can experience heartburn, it is more common in people who are overweight and pregnant women.
If symptoms are mild and occasional, heartburn can usually be managed with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. But if symptoms are frequent and persistent, it’s important to see your doctor, as other treatment may be needed, including prescription medications and rarely surgery.
Common triggers for heartburn include eating large meals, fatty and spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, carbonated drinks, peppermints and smoking.
If you have heartburn, there are some lifestyle changes that can help to prevent and/or manage the symptoms:
- Eat small more frequent meals and avoid large meals or overeating
- Relax at mealtimes and eat slowly
- Avoid or limit alcohol, especially on an empty stomach
- Avoid carbonated drinks
- If you smoke, get help to quit
- Avoid foods that you find trigger your symptoms –this can vary from one person to another but high fat foods, spicy foods and chocolate are common culprits
- Avoid lying down, lifting, bending or strenuous physical activity for a few hours after meals
- Avoid clothes that are tight around the middle
- Elevate the head of your bed or sleep on extra pillows if you experience heartburn at night
- Lose weight, if you are overweight
For more information:
Download an information sheet from the Gastroenterological Society of Australia.