Heartburn & Indigestion

Signs & Symptoms   |    Causes   |    Treatment   |    Questions to Ask   |    Self-Care/Prevention

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Heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. It involves the esophagus and the stomach. The esophagus passes behind the breastbone alongside the heart. The irritation that takes place there feels like a burning feeling in the heart. Indigestion is a general term for discomfort in the abdomen that comes after eating.

Signs & Symptoms

•  A burning feeling behind the breastbone occurs after eating.

•  Chest pain is felt when you bend over or lie down.

•  Your mouth has a bitter, hot, or sour taste.

Gastric acids from the stomach splash back up into the lower portion of the esophagus. This causes pain. The medical term for this is gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD). The digestive acids don’t harm the stomach. It has a coating to protect it. The esophagus doesn’t. Acids there cause pain.

Common Heartburn Triggers

•  Aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, arthritis medicine, or corticosteroids.

•  Heavy meals. Eating too fast. Chocolate. Garlic. Onions. Peppermint. Tomatoes and citrus fruits.

•  Smoking or lying down after eating.

•  Drinking alcohol or coffee (regular or decaffeinated).

•  Being very overweight.

•  Wearing tight clothing.

•  Swallowing too much air.

•  Stress.

•  Hiatal hernia.

•  Pregnancy.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)



Self-care treats most cases of this common problem. Heartburn symptoms can be confused, though, with ones of a heart attack or other medical problems.

Questions to Ask

Self-Care / Prevention

•  Sit straight while you eat. Stand up or walk around after you eat. Bending over or lying down after you eat makes it too easy for stomach acids to move up to the esophagus.

•  Don’t smoke.

•  Lose weight if you are overweight.

•  If heartburn bothers you at night, raise the head of the bed. Put the head of your bed up on 6-inch blocks. You can also buy a special wedge that is made to be placed between the mattress and box spring. Don’t just prop your head up with pillows. This makes the problem worse by putting pressure on your stomach.

•  Don’t wear garments that fit tight around the abdomen.

•  Eat small meals. Limit alcohol.

•  Limit foods and drinks with air. Examples are whipped cream and carbonated drinks.

•  Don’t eat or drink for 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

•  If you take aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or arthritis medicines, take them with food.

•  If other treatments fail, take antacids, such as Tums. If these don’t bring relief, take an over-the-counter acid controller, such as Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, etc. These prevent and relieve heartburn. {Note: Read labels before taking antacids or acid controllers. Check with your doctor, too. Adverse side effects are more likely and more severe in older persons who take some acid controllers, such as Tagamet HB.}

•  Don’t take baking soda. It is high in sodium and is not effective.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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