Heartburn is a burning sensation in your chest, just behind your breastbone. Heartburn pain is often worse when lying down or bending over.
Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm. Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn on their own with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications.
More frequent heartburn that interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of something more serious that requires help from a doctor.
Symptoms of heartburn include:
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if:
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus.
Normally when you swallow, your lower esophageal sphincter — a circular band of muscle around the bottom part of your esophagus — relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach. Then it closes again.
However, if the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus, causing heartburn. The acid backup may be worse when you're bent over or lying down.
How heartburn and GERD occur
Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of your esophagus relaxes at the wrong time, allowing stomach acid to back up into your esophagus. This can cause heartburn and other ...
Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn in some people, including:
Heartburn that occurs frequently and interferes with your routine is considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD treatment may require prescription medications and, occasionally, surgery or other procedures. GERD can damage the esophagus and cause serious complications.
Preparing for your appointment
See your doctor if your heartburn becomes more frequent or no longer responds to over-the-counter medications. Your doctor may recommend you see a doctor who specializes in treating digestive diseases (gastroenterologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For heartburn, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
To determine if your heartburn is a symptom of GERD, your doctor may suggest one or more tests and procedures, including:
An endoscopy procedure involves inserting a long, flexible tube (endoscope) down your throat and into your esophagus. A tiny camera on the end of the endoscope lets your doctor examine your ...
Treatments and drugs
Many over-the-counter medications are available to relieve the pain of heartburn. Options include:
Read and follow the instructions on over-the-counter medications. If you find over-the-counter treatments don't work or you rely on them often, make an appointment with your doctor.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You may find heartburn relief by making small changes. Consider trying to:
Anxiety and stress can worsen heartburn symptoms. Some complementary and alternative treatments may help you cope with anxiety and stress. If your heartburn is worsened by anxiety and stress, consider trying:
Last Updated: 2011-05-21
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