How To Relieve Heartburn That Won't Go Away

Simple strategies may help ease your discomfort.

Heartburn is a common sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that is frequently diagnosed among Americans.

Luckily, there are measures you can take to prevent and decrease discomfort. Here's more about heartburn and how to relieve it.

What To Know About Heartburn that Won't Go Away

Heartburn can be associated with acid reflux, a symptom of GERD.

  • A number of lifestyle and diet factors may cause heartburn.
  • Changes within those factors can help reduce or prevent further bouts of heartburn.
  • If heartburn doesn't resolve, you'll want to consult with a healthcare provider.

How Are Heartburn and GERD Linked?

Swallowed food goes from your throat to your stomach by way of your esophagus, a tube that connects the throat to your stomach. If the opening to your stomach does not close after the food has passed through, acid can move back through the opening.

In other words, acid may find its way up your esophagus to your throat, which is known as acid reflux. One of the main symptoms of GERD is chronic acid reflux. (Of note, you have GERD without heartburn.) But when acid reflux happens, it causes a burning sensation—aka, heartburn.

What To Do for Heartburn

When heartburn happens, there are a few things you can do that may help you get some relief.

Confirm Medication Instructions

In some cases, medications may be needed to treat heartburn. Proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, are a group of drugs that keep the stomach from producing acid.

However, they are not always completely effective. 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, Virginia, 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 a healthcare provider for specific instructions.

Identify Foods that Trigger Heartburn

Knowing what triggers your heartburn symptoms can help reduce how bad they are. Heartburn is usually caused by:

  • Spicy, greasy, or acidic foods
  • Alcohol
  • Drinks with caffeine
  • Peppermint
  • Tomato products

If you're unsure what causes discomfort, try recording your symptoms when heartburn hits. This can let you know when and how often the heartburn happens and which foods may be causing you trouble.

Shift Your Meal Habits

One study found that people with GERD dealt with acid reflux by lying down after a late meal for longer than those who ate earlier meals.

So eating a meal within a few hours of bedtime or right before you plan to go to sleep may lead to heartburn problems.

"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.

With that in mind, try to eat any meals earlier in the day instead of right before bedtime. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least two to three hours before bed if you've eaten.

Eating before exercise can aggravate symptoms of GERD as well. Therefore, you'll also want to give yourself some time between eating and physical activity.

Shift Your Sleeping Position

The way you lie down for sleep can lead to heartburn issues too. Research has found that lying on your right side is associated with increased nighttime and after-meal reflux.

So beyond waiting to lie down after a meal, consider trying to sleep on your left side as much as possible when you go to bed.

Additionally, for nighttime symptoms, Dr. Johnson suggested elevating the head of the bed with blocks or using a bed wedge to elevate the upper torso. Elevating the head of the bed has been found to be an effective remedy for nighttime GERD issues.

Try an Over-the-Counter Drug

Over-the-counter drugs can help with heartburn symptoms by:

  • Making stomach acid less acidic
  • Blocking fluid flow
  • Decreasing stomach fluids

These drugs may be medicines such as Pepcid AC and Zantac 360.

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."

When to Reach Out to a Healthcare Provider About Heartburn that Won't Go Away

But if you make changes and still have heartburn, talk with a healthcare provider. You'll also want to talk with a provider if you use over-the-counter medications frequently (two times or more weekly).

"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, a provider can determine what's causing your symptoms.

A Quick Review

Heartburn can be the result of acid reflux. However, there are several ways to get relief when you have heartburn, such as determining which foods or drinks are triggers, waiting to lie down after a meal, and changing your sleeping position. But if you find that you still have problems with heartburn, talk with a healthcare provider.

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