5 Ways to Decrease Heartburn

Simple strategies may help ease your discomfort.

Heartburn is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that is frequently diagnosed among Americans, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

It happens when gastric juice in the stomach backs up into the esophagus, the tube that carries food and liquid from your throat to your stomach, and causes a burning sensation.

Fortunately, there are measures you can take to prevent and minimize discomfort.

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Take medication correctly

In some cases, medications may be necessary to treat heartburn. Proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, are a group of drugs that curb stomach acid production. But they don't always work—sometimes because heartburn has been misdiagnosed. Even when PPIs do work, up to 40% of people can still have breakthrough symptoms from time to time.

"Typically, the proton pump inhibitors are given 30 to 60 minutes before breakfast," David A. Johnson, MD, a professor of medicine and the chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School, in Norfolk, VA and past president of the American College of Gastroenterology, told Health.

However, some people do better taking two doses a day to stave off nighttime symptoms, said Dr. Johnson. If you don't know how and when to take your medications, call your healthcare provider for specific instructions.

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Don't go to bed on a full stomach

Lying down within three to four hours of consuming a large meal, particularly a late-evening feast, could be troublesome for your heartburn.

"My big push is to keep the patients away from late eating, large meals, and recumbency [lying down or resting]," said Dr. Johnson. The combination of these behaviors may give you heartburn that even PPIs—the gold standard in GERD treatment—can't handle.

For nighttime symptoms, Dr. Johnson suggested elevating the head of the bed with blocks or using a bed wedge to elevate the upper torso.

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Lose weight

A March 2021 study published in the Journal of Medical and Surgical Practice found that people who were overweight were more at risk for GERD. Their symptoms were worse and more frequent than those of lesser weights.

Although this may not be a quick solution—depending on what your goal may be—losing weight has the potential to give you some heartburn relief.

"A reduction of even 2.5 pounds may be enough for some patients to decrease or eliminate their reflux symptoms," said Dr. Johnson.

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Try an over-the-counter drug

Over-the-counter drugs such as Pepcid AC and Zantac 360 may help reduce symptoms.

Their effectiveness may wane because people develop a tolerance to the drug, according to Joel Richter, MD, the chief of GI and Directory of Joy McCann Culverhouse Swallowing Center at the University of South Florida, in Tampa.

"What I suggest to my patients is that they take an over-the-counter H2 blocker when they have their breakthrough symptoms," said Dr. Richter. "That seems to give them better control."

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Know your triggers

Heartburn is usually caused by spicy or acidic foods, alcohol, and beverages with caffeine, according to the NLM,. Being aware of what triggers your symptoms can help reduce their intensity.

If you're not sure what prompts your discomfort, try recording your symptoms when heartburn hits. This can be helpful for analyzing when and how often the heartburn happens and which foods may be culprits.

But if you make changes and still have heartburn, talk with your healthcare provider.

"If people are having residual symptoms several times per week, and certainly if they're having residual symptoms to the point that it's interfering with their ability to sleep…or function on a day-to-day basis, they should definitely talk to their physician about it," William D. Chey, MD, director of the gastrointestinal physiology laboratory at the University of Michigan Health System, in Ann Arbor, told Health.

With information about your heartburn triggers, your provider can determine the underlying issues that may be causing your symptoms.

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