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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

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Heartburn and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Medical Causes

Some of the medical causes for heartburn include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Bulging of part of the stomach into the chest cavity, also called hiatal hernia
  • GERD
  • Taking certain medications, especially some antibiotics and NSAIDS, including aspirin
  • Constipation


Heartburn Treatment

Treating heartburn requires adjustments to your lifestyle, diet, medications, and possibly surgery if your heartburn is due to GERD or a hiatal hernia.

Tips to Alleviate Heartburn Symptoms

  • Raise the head of your bed about 6 inches to allow gravity to help keep the stomach's contents in the stomach. (Do not use piles of pillows because this puts your body into a bent position that actually aggravates the condition by increasing pressure on the abdomen. Instead, put books under the legs of the bed to raise it up.)
  • Eat meals at least three to four hours before lying down and avoid bedtime snacks.
  • Eat smaller meals.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to eliminate unnecessary intra-abdominal pressure caused by extra pounds.
  • Limit consumption of fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, coffee, tea, colas, and alcohol -- all of which can relax the lower esophageal sphincter -- and tomatoes and citrus fruits or juices, which contribute additional acid that can irritate the esophagus.
  • Consider an elimination diet to see what foods bother you.
  • Avoid constipation.
  • Give up smoking, which also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Wear loose belts and clothing.

Medicines used to treat heartburn can range from over-the-counter remedies to prescription medicine.

Over-the-Counter Heartburn Treatments

  • Antacids. Antacids neutralize excess stomach acid to relieve heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach upset. They are also occasionally recommended to help relieve the pain of ulcers. Some antacids also contain simethicone, an ingredient that helps eliminate excess gas. Examples of antacids include: Tums, Rolaids, and Maalox. You should take antacids exactly as directed by your doctor, or according to the manufacturer's directions. If you are using the tablets, chew them well before swallowing for faster relief. Serious side effects can occur with an overdose or overuse of antacids. Side effects include constipation, diarrhea, change in color of bowel movements, and stomach cramps.
  • Acid Blockers. These medicines relieve heartburn, acid indigestion, and sour stomach, and are available without a prescription. Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, Zantac 75, Axid AR, Nexium 24HR, and Prilosec OTC are examples of over-the-counter acid blockers. Acid blockers work by reducing the production of stomach acid. Take these medications according to the directions on the package, or as advised by your doctor. Possible serious side effects that need to be reported to your doctor right away include confusion, chest tightness, bleeding, sore throat, fever, irregular heartbeat, weakness, and unusual fatigue. Other less serious side effects include mild headache, dizziness and diarrhea, which are usually temporary and will likely go away on their own.

People who have more severe heartburn symptoms that aren't relieved with these medications or who have been using these drugs for more than two weeks should contact their doctor. They may need a prescription drug.

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