Skip to content

What triggers heartburn can be, well, a burning question. Here's what you need to know about the common causes of heartburn and what you can do to prevent the pain.

Heartburn triggers: What's burning you?

The specific triggers for heartburn differ from person to person. Mama Mia's marinara may always spell trouble for you, but your spouse may lick the plate clean and sit back with a satisfied belly and a smile.

What can lead to heartburn may surprise you. Stay away from foods you know will give you heartburn. It's not just about the food you eat. How and when you exercise and what you take to relieve your aches and pains may also cause that burning feeling. The key to taming the flame is to understand what triggers your own personal symptoms.

Heartburn triggers: Large meals and fatty foods

A big greasy burger and supersized serving of fries right before bedtime is a good way to fuel the flame of heartburn. Fatty foods, large portions, and late-night meals are the top three triggers that affect many people with heartburn.

Heartburn is most common after eating a large meal. A belly full of too much food stretches the stomach, causing you to feel "stuffed." Stomach stretching, or distention, puts pressure on the LES, the ring of muscle that keeps stomach acids from moving in the wrong direction. So juices from your last meal may come back to haunt you. This can happen when eating large amounts of any food, not just foods known to trigger your heartburn symptoms.

Fatty foods are big no-nos if you suffer from heartburn. High-fat foods sit around in your belly longer. This makes your stomach produce more acid, irritating your digestive system. And fatty and greasy foods lead to a lazy, relaxed LES. So not only do you have more irritating stomach acids, you're more likely to have the contents splash back up your throat. Ouch!

Heartburn triggers: Heartburn and diet

A number of foods and drinks can cause the LES to relax. Food and drinks that commonly trigger heartburn include:

  • alcohol, particularly red wine
  • black pepper, garlic, raw onions, and other spicy foods
  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits and products, such as oranges and orange juice
  • coffee and caffeinated drinks, including tea and soda
  • peppermint
  • tomatoes

However, unless these foods are causing you heartburn you don't have to avoid them. To prevent heartburn after meals:

  • Don't overeat. Eat five or six small meals each day, instead of several large meals.
  • Don't eat before bedtime. Allow 2 hours to digest your food before lying down. Lying down makes digestion difficult and makes heartburn more likely.