Heartburn is common and usually not a cause for concern. However, sometimes heartburn can be a sign of a serious condition that requires medical attention, especially if you have a history of heart disease.
Consult your doctor immediately if you experience the following:
- Symptoms that worsen or become more frequent (more than once a week for 6 months or longer)
- Chest tightness or pressure
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Cold sweats
- Heart palpitations
- Unexplained weight loss
- Symptoms that are not relieved with antacids
- Symptoms interfere with your daily activities or sleep
- Severe abdominal pain
- Bloating or abdominal distention
- Uncontrolled hiccups
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent cough
- Lump in the throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in stools or black, tarry stools
- Blood in vomit
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
What is heartburn?
GERD refers to the frequent backflow or reflux of stomach acids into the esophagus. To be considered GERD, mild acid reflux must occur at least twice a week, or moderate to severe acid reflux must occur at least once a week. Repeated acid reflux can lead to inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis), Barrette esophagus (a precancerous condition), and esophageal cancer.
Symptoms may occur or worsen when you lie down or sleep right after a meal, particularly a heavy meal. Symptoms of heartburn vary from mild to severe and may be associated with an acidic or bitter taste in the mouth, hoarseness, or cough.
Heartburn is typically felt in the middle of the chest right behind your breastbone or sternum. You may feel a burning sensation that starts right under the lower border of the sternum and travels upward toward your throat. The pain, however, does not typically radiate to the shoulders, arms, or jaw.
What triggers heartburn?
Heartburn is generally triggered by eating certain types of foods. Triggers and risk factors may include:
What can be mistaken for heartburn?
Certain health conditions have symptoms that mimic heartburn, and it can be difficult to tell the difference. This is why it is important to seek medical attention if your symptoms are frequent or are not relieved by antacids.
Health conditions that may mimic heartburn include:
Top When Should You Worry About Heartburn Related Articles
aluminum hydroxideAluminum hydroxide is an antacid available over the counter and is used to relieve heartburn from gastritis, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Use with caution in patients with heart failure, cirrhosis, kidney disease, or edema. Common side effects of aluminum hydroxide include constipation, hemorrhoids, fecal discoloration (white speckles), fecal impaction, gastrointestinal obstruction, chalky taste, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, loss of appetite (anorexia), weakness, feeling unwell (malaise), rebound hyperacidity, low phosphate levels in the blood (hypophosphatemia), low magnesium in blood (hypomagnesemia), softening of bones (osteomalacia), brittle bones (osteoporosis), and others. Aluminum hydroxide overdose can cause severe constipation, confusion, mood changes, and reduced urination.
aluminum hydroxide/magnesium trisilicateAluminum hydroxide/magnesium trisilicate is a combination medication used to relieve symptoms of acid indigestion and heartburn due to acid reflux. Common side effects of aluminum hydroxide include stomach cramps, constipation, fecal impaction, hemorrhoids, nausea, vomiting, chalky taste, rebound hyperacidity, softening of bones (osteomalacia), and others. Common side effects of magnesium trisilicate include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, lethargy, drowsiness, lightheadedness, and high magnesium levels in blood (hypermagnesemia).
chamomileChamomile is a medicinal herb commonly used for many ailments including gastrointestinal disorders, inflammation, hay fever, menstrual disorders, mouth ulcers, wounds and muscle spasms. Common side effects of chamomile include hypersensitivity reactions, contact dermatitis, severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), exacerbation of eye inflammation with eye washing, and vomiting if taken in large doses. Do not take chamomile if you have allergic conditions such as asthma. Chamomile may increase anticoagulant properties of other medications. Avoid chamomile use in pregnant or breastfeeding women.
cimetidine, Tagamet HBCimetidine (Tagamet) is a drug prescribed for the treatment of GERD, duodenal ulcers, active gastric ulcers, Zollinger Ellison syndrome, heartburn, indigestion; and the prevention of gastrointestinal bleeding. Minor side effects include constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, insomnia, muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting. Consult your doctor before taking if pregnant or breastfeeding.
citric acid/sodium citrateCitric acid/sodium bicarbonate is a combination antacid medication used for the temporary relief of upset stomach, including sour stomach, heartburn, and acid indigestion. Use with caution if you are on a sodium-restricted diet. Side effects of citric acid/sodium bicarbonate include gas (flatulence), abdominal bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fluid retention, and excessive alkalinity of body fluids (alkalosis). Consult your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
famotidineFamotidine is a drug prescribed for the treatment of stomach and duodenal ulcers, heartburn, esophagitis, GERD, and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. The most commonly reported minor side effects of famotidine are constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, insomnia, muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting. Other important side effects include anemia, confusion, easy bruising or bleeding, hair loss, and rash. Consult with your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
GERD (Acid Reflux, Heartburn)Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also called acid reflux, can cause symptoms like heartburn, chest pain, regurgitation, and nausea. Learn about causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Heartburn Foods SlidesLearn the symptoms of heartburn and which foods cause heartburn or GERD. Discover home remedies and which foods may provide treatment for heartburn relief.
Acid Reflux (Heartburn, GERD): Symptoms & RemediesHeartburn is a symptom of acid reflux that causes chest pain when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Heartburn symptoms may mimic chest pain that occurs during a heart attack. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may produce other symptoms.
Heartburn vs. Acid Reflux (Differences and Similarities)
Heartburn and acid reflux are not the same thing. Heartburn is actually a symptom of acid reflux. Heartburn gets its name because it feels like a burning sensation around the heart. Another symptom that occurs with heartburn is a bitter or sour taste in the mouth, usually when you eat or lye down. Heartburn affects more than 60 million people in the US at least once a month. Acid reflux, or GERD, occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, which irritates it. Heartburn is just one symptom of acid reflux. Other symptoms of acid reflux include:
- Nausea after eating
- A feeling of fullness during or after eating
- Abdominal bloating
- Upset stomach
- Reflux laryngitis
- A tightness in the throat
- Problems swallowing
- In some people, vomiting
Causes of acid reflux and heartburn include:
- Being obese
- Slouching (poor posture)
- Medications like calcium channel blockers, theophylline, nitrates, and antihistamines
- Foods and drinks like caffeine, citrus fruits and vegetables, alcohol, and chocolate
- Increase in stomach acid
- Eating a heavy meal
- Eating before bed
The treatment for heartburn and acid reflux is to treat the underlying cause, for example, GERD, with over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, prescription medicine, natural remedies, and lifestyle changes like a eating a healthy, less fatty, spicy diet, not eating big meals, not eating before bed, and getting regular exercise to improve your posture.
Sometimes a heart attack can mimic heartburn and acid reflux because they feel very similar. If you have symptoms of chest pain, tightness in the chest, heartburn, acid reflux, jaw, tooth, or head pain; shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, sweating, discomfort in the upper middle of the abdomen, arm or upper back pain, or the general feeling of being ill, go to the nearest Emergency Department immediately because these are the symptoms of a heart attack.
American College of Gastroenterology. "Acid Reflux." 2017.
familydoctor.org. "Heartburn." Updated: Mar 2014.
National Library of Medicine; PubMed Health. "Heartburn and GERD: Treatment options for GERD." Updated: Nov 18, 2015.
juniperDried juniper berries, berry oil and extracts, juniper bark, and other plant parts have been used orally and topically for centuries as traditional medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments, including gastrointestinal and urinary issues, and skin and inflammatory conditions. Studies indicate juniper has antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer, as well as blood sugar, blood fat, and blood pressure lowering properties. Do not use if you have kidney inflammation, juniper can irritate the kidneys. Do not use if you are pregnant, juniper may induce uterine contraction and cause miscarriage. Avoid if you are a nursing mother. Common side effects of juniper include diarrhea, stomach ache, kidney ache, blood in the urine (hematuria), albumin in urine (albuminuria), increase in heart rate, skin irritation, blisters, dermatitis, and nasal congestion.
magnesium hydroxideMagnesium hydroxide, also known as milk of magnesia, is used to relieve occasional constipation and to treat heartburn and acid indigestion. Common side effects of magnesium hydroxide include diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloody stools, rectal bleeding, dehydration symptoms (dry mouth, extreme thirst, reduced urination, dizziness, electrolyte imbalance), and high magnesium in blood (hypermagnesemia). Occasional use of magnesium hydroxide in recommended doses during pregnancy and breastfeeding is generally considered safe.
omeprazoleOmeprazole, omeprazole/sodium bicarbonate is a proton pump inhibitor drug (PPI) prescribed for the treatment of ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, duodenitis, erosive esophagitis, heartburn, and H. pylori infection. Side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precautions, and patient information should always be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce the production of acid in the wall of the stomach (that produces acid) thereby preventing ulcers and assists in the healing of ulcers that exist on the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum. PPIs are prescribed for the prevention and treatment for acid-related conditions such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), ulcers, and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome. PPIs may also be used in combination with antibiotics for the treatment of Helicobacter pylori.
10 Fast Acting Ways to Relieve HeartburnWhat do you need to know about heartburn remedies? Learn the foods that cause heartburn, quick home remedies, and the rules of avoiding heartburn pain. Should you try aloe juice or apple cider vinegar for heartburn? Find out here.
Ways to Relieve Acid Reflux (GERD, Heartburn)Most people have experienced some sort of pain or discomfort following a large meal or a particular food that didn’t quite agree with their stomach. Acid reflux symptoms can happen without a specific underlying condition.
What Can Heartburn Be a Sign of?Heartburn symptoms may indicate a bigger health concern. Learn more about heartburn, heartburn symptoms, heartburn related to other health conditions, how it's diagnosed, and your treatment options for heartburn.
What Home Remedies Kill Heartburn?Heartburn can cause an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest. Here are 15 natural remedies to relieve heartburn and alleviate symptoms.