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Treatment Tips for Frequent Heartburn Sufferers

If you have frequent heartburn or acid reflux, try these tips for relief.
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You're starting to notice that it's not only obvious things -- like too much spicy food or coffee -- that trigger painful heartburn symptoms. Now you're getting heartburn in the middle of the afternoon, just working at your desk, or sitting on the sofa at home. Sometimes you wake up at night with pain in the back of your throat and that awful taste of yesterday's dinner. You groan: not again. Sit up in bed and wonder: Is this more serious than simple heartburn?

Is It Acid Reflux Disease?

"If someone's experiencing frequent heartburn, first I'd look at their eating pattern," says Tara O'Brien, PharmD, a pharmacy manager at Pharmaca in Seattle, a national, integrative pharmacy combining Western medicine with self-care. "It could be from a lot of different things: diet, size of your meals, how frequently or infrequently you're eating," she says.

If you have frequent heartburn and you're not seeing your doctor or pharmacist for heartburn relief, you may be flirting with trouble. Your heartburn may be a sign of deeper trouble -- more than a grouchy stomach rebelling against a big, spicy meal.

You may have acid reflux disease, also called GERD, a condition that makes food and stomach acid "burp" back up into the base of your esophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach). People with acid reflux often have a too-weak or too-relaxed LES muscle -- that's the tiny muscle at the base of your esophagus that closes to keep food in your stomach after swallowing.

If the LES is less strong, up comes the food -- along with the burning, acidic irritation in your chest that we call "heartburn." Left untreated, frequent acid reflux can lead to chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, says the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA).

Stop Heartburn and Acid Reflux

Fortunately, you have several options for heartburn relief:

  • Try eating smaller meals, and don't eat two to three hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid foods that may trigger heartburn, such as fried food, citrus, tomato, spices, peppermint, chocolate, and carbonated drinks.
  • Cut back on alcohol and caffeine.
  • Stop smoking if you smoke.
  • Lose weight if your doctor says you're overweight.
  • Cut back on aspirin and pain relievers if you take them often.

Talk with your pharmacist about other self-care tips you can use. If changing your style of eating isn't enough, consider trying one of these heartburn medications.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Antacids

The same OTC antacids can work for frequent heartburn as well as rare heartburn symptoms, says O'Brien. Most antacids - such as Maalox, Rolaids, and Tums -- contain calcium carbonate, which neutralizes stomach acid. Antacids can also be  aluminum or magnesium based. Aluminum-containing antacids have a tendency to cause constipation, while magnesium-containing antacids tend to cause diarrhea.

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