5 ways to banish heartburn for good

Heartburn – often a burning sensation in your chest or stomach – is a common cause of discomfort. New research has found simple ways to help reduce symptoms.

One in five Aussies regularly suffers from heartburn.

If you are one of them, you know just how unpleasant it can be.

What is heartburn?

Also known as reflux, heartburn happens when stomach acid and regurgitated food leaks from the stomach and moves back up the oesophagus (the food pipe).

“Heartburn can happen when the sphincter or ring of muscle that connects the oesophagus to the stomach becomes weaker, so it’s easier for food and stomach acid to pass back up into the oesophagus and throat and cause that burning sensation,” gastroenterologist Dr May Wong says.

It’s often part of a condition called gastro-esophageal reflux disease where sufferers have difficulties swallowing or feeling like they have a lump in their throat.

Common causes of heartburn include:

What are the symptoms of heartburn?

Dr Wong says symptoms include burning or pain in the chest when lying down, and a burning feeling or acidic taste in the back of the throat.

How can you reduce symptoms?

A recent study has found five diet and lifestyle changes can reduce the symptoms of heartburn or gastro-esophageal reflux by 37 per cent.

“This study provides evidence that common and debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms could be well controlled in many cases with diet and lifestyle modifications alone,” study author and Harvard Medical School professor of medicine Andrew Chan wrote in the report.

The five modifications are:

  1. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for at least 30 minutes daily
  2. Maintaining a normal weight
  3. Never smoking
  4. Restricting coffee, tea and soft drinks to two cups daily
  5. Following a healthy diet

Other ways to reduce the symptoms of heartburn

  • Over-the-counter antacids and prescription medication, most often proton pump inhibitors, are the standard clinical treatment for heartburn, but are not recommended long-term.
  • Do not lie down for at least three hours after eating.
  • Try sleeping with the head of your bed elevated. “You can put some bricks underneath the head of the bed so you are less likely to have acid coming up the oesophagus,” Dr Wong says.
  • Lose fat around your middle. Dr Wong says extra weight around the waistline increases pressure on the oesophagus. “Every kilogram of weight loss helps reduce that pressure,” Dr Wong says.

When to get extra help

Dr Wong recommends a visit to the GP if heartburn or reflux is persistent, if there is unintentional weight loss, loss of appetite, vomiting, or swallowing becomes painful.

“People often put up with heartburn and take over-the-counter treatments, but it is important to check for any underlying cause,” Dr Wong says.

Written by Sarah Marinos.