Top of the pageCheck Your Symptoms
Heartburn is a feeling of burning, warmth, heat, or pain that often starts in the upper belly just below the lower breastbone (sternum). This discomfort may spread in waves upward into your throat. You may have a sour taste in your mouth. Heartburn is sometimes called indigestion, acid regurgitation, sour stomach, or pyrosis. It isn't caused by problems with your heart. But sometimes heart problems can feel like heartburn.
Heartburn may cause burping, nausea, bloating, or trouble swallowing. These symptoms can sometimes last up to 2 hours or longer. In some people, heartburn symptoms may cause sleep problems, a chronic cough, asthma, wheezing, or choking episodes.
Heartburn usually is worse after you eat. It's often made worse if you lie down or bend over. It gets better if you sit or stand up.
Almost everyone will have troubles with heartburn now and then.
Heartburn occurs more often in adults than in children. Many women have heartburn every day when they're pregnant. That's because the growing uterus puts increasing upward pressure on the stomach.
Symptoms of heartburn and symptoms of a heart attack may feel the same. Sometimes your heartburn symptoms may mean a more serious problem. They may need to be checked by your doctor.
Dyspepsia is a medical term that's used to describe a vague feeling of fullness, gnawing, or burning in the chest or upper belly, especially after eating. A person may describe this feeling as "gas." Other symptoms may occur at the same time. They include belching, rumbling noises in the belly, increased passing gas (flatus), poor appetite, and a change in bowel habits. Causes of dyspepsia can vary from minor to serious.
Heartburn occurs when food and stomach juices back up (reflux) into the esophagus. This is the tube that leads from the throat to the stomach. This process is called gastroesophageal reflux. Common causes of reflux include:
Mild heartburn occurs about once a month. Moderate heartburn occurs about once a week.
Severe heartburn occurs every day. It can cause problems such as bleeding, trouble swallowing, and weight loss. Heartburn may occur with other symptoms, such as hoarseness, a feeling that food is stuck in your throat, tightness in your throat, a hoarse voice, wheezing, asthma, dental problems, or bad breath. In this case, heartburn may be caused by a more serious problem, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A lasting inflammation of the lining of the esophagus occurs in GERD. It can lead to other health problems. Heartburn may also be related to an infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria.
Heartburn symptoms that won't go away can be a sign of a more serious medical condition, such as severe inflammation of the esophagus or cancer of the stomach or esophagus.
Heartburn is more serious when it occurs with belly pain or bleeding.
Almost all babies spit up, especially newborns. Spitting up decreases when the muscles of the esophagus become more coordinated. This process can take as little as 6 months or as long as 1 year. Spitting up isn't the same thing as vomiting. Vomiting is forceful and repeated. Spitting up may seem forceful. But it usually occurs shortly after feeding, is effortless, and causes no discomfort.
Children who often vomit after eating during the first 2 years of life are more likely to have heartburn and reflux problems, such as GERD, later in life. Children with reflux problems also have increased chances of other problems, such as sinusitis, laryngitis, asthma, pneumonia, and dental problems.
The treatment of heartburn depends on how bad your heartburn is and what other symptoms you have. Home treatment and medicines that you can buy without a prescription usually will relieve mild to moderate heartburn. Make sure to see your doctor if heartburn occurs often and isn't relieved by home treatment.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms like shortness of breath, tiredness, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Many prescription and non-prescription medicines can cause heartburn. A few examples are:
Caffeine and alcohol also can cause heartburn.
Pain in adults and older children
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Home treatment, such as lifestyle changes and non-prescription medicines, may be all that's needed to treat mild to moderate heartburn. But if your symptoms don't get better with home treatment, or if your symptoms occur often, there may be other medical problems may be causing your symptoms.
Keep a record of your heartburn symptoms before and after you make lifestyle changes or use non-prescription medicines so you can track any improvement or changes.
The two main types of medicines for heartburn are antacids and stomach acid reducers.
Many people take non-prescription antacids for mild or occasional heartburn.
Antacids work faster than acid reducers (H2 blockers). But their effect doesn't last more than 1 to 2 hours. H2 blockers can provide relief for up to 12 hours.
Antacids have side effects. They may cause diarrhea or constipation. And they can interfere with how your body absorbs other medicines.
Be careful when you take over-the-counter antacids. Many of these medicines have aspirin in them. Read the label to make sure that you aren't taking more than the recommended dose. Too much aspirin can be harmful.
Histamine receptor (or H2) blockers decrease the amount of acid that the stomach makes. This may reduce irritation of the stomach lining and decrease heartburn. Some examples of non-prescription acid reducers are Pepcid AC (famotidine) and Tagamet HB (cimetidine).
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole (for example, Prilosec), reduce stomach acid and treat severe heartburn symptoms. These acid-reducing medicines are used when your heartburn hasn't gotten better with other home treatments, antacids, or H2 blockers. You may need to use a PPI for up to 5 days before you have relief of your heartburn. You can buy PPIs without a prescription.
Many people may use over-the-counter medicines for occasional heartburn. There are some cautions you should be aware of.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of: March 22, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Current as of: March 22, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.