If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night with a burning sensation in your chest, chances are you’ve experienced heartburn. This annoying condition, that’s also commonly called indigestion or acid reflux, is caused by stomach acid rising back up into the oesophagus (throat) after you eat. Some people experience it very rarely, while others may have it persistently every day.
The symptoms of heartburn can often be similar to that of a heart attack, so it’s important that you know the differences. In general, heartburn symptoms include1:
- A burning beneath the ribs which can continue up the throat and into the jaw.
- An acidic taste in the back of the mouth.
- Hiccups or coughing.
- Bloating or nausea.
When heartburn hits
When you experience heartburn, waiting it out might not be your only way to feel better. When indigestion hits, why not try the following:
Elevate your upper body
When heartburn starts, try standing up to help encourage the excess acid to flow back down towards your stomach2. If you’re in bed, prop yourself up with an extra cushion so your chest and throat are elevated.
Smoking when you’re experiencing heartburn is a big no-no as the smoke will not only irritate your gastrointestinal tract (digestive system), but also potentially over relax the muscles in your oesophagus. If they’re too relaxed, they’ll do a poorer job of keeping stomach acid down where it belongs3.
Chew some gum
Some studies show that chewing gum after you eat may reduce the risk of indigestion. This is because chewing stimulates saliva production which will then coat the oesophagus and help clear it off any acidic build up4.
Sleep on your left side
Some scientists believe sleeping on your right-hand side can aggravate heartburn symptoms. This is because the oesophagus enters the stomach on the right side of your body, therefore, leaning on it while you sleep could cause stomach acid to travel more easily back up towards your throat5.
How to prevent heartburn in the future
The best way to avoid heartburn is to try and work out exactly what is causing it. There are a few common foods and beverages which may be the likely culprits of your indigestion, most of which are quite acidic. These include6:
- Spicy foods
- Raw onion or garlic (cooked or raw)
- Fatty or fried foods
- Citrus fruits
- Alcohol (particularly wine)
- Caffeinated or carbonated drinks
If your heartburn is becoming an issue or you’ve only recently started to develop it, it’s probably worth keeping a food diary for a few weeks. That way, you can record exactly what you’re eating and work out which food and/or drink is causing the burning sensation in your chest.
Other things which might reduce the likelihood of indigestion returning include7:
Wearing loose clothing when you eat – tight clothing, especially things that constrict the stomach, can be a contributing factor of heartburn.
Eating smaller meals – eating too much, too quickly can increase the chances of heartburn. Try eating smaller amounts and make sure you chew every mouthful properly.
Taking a digestive health supplement – there are numerous natural supplements out there which can help support digestive health and may reduce the risk of heartburn. Liquorice root is a popular pick as it helps support digestion and gastrointestinal health.
If you’ve taken the advice above and still have a persistent heartburn problem, it may be a good idea to visit your GP. They can help identify the cause and prescribe you with a stronger antacid medication to soothe your symptoms.
Last updated: 20 April 2020