Heartburn and acid refluxOverview

Heartburn is a burning feeling in the chest caused by stomach acid travelling up towards the throat (acid reflux). If it keeps happening, it's called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

The main symptoms of acid reflux are:

  • heartburn – a burning sensation in the middle of your chest
  • an unpleasant sour taste in your mouth, caused by stomach acid

You may also have:

  • a cough or hiccups that keep coming back
  • a hoarse voice
  • bad breath
  • bloating and feeling sick

Your symptoms will probably be worse after eating, when lying down and when bending over.

Lots of people get heartburn from time to time. There's often no obvious reason why.

Sometimes it's caused or made worse by:

  • certain food and drink – such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate and fatty or spicy foods
  • being overweight
  • smoking
  • pregnancy
  • stress and anxiety
  • some medicines, such as anti-inflammatory painkillers (like ibuprofen)
  • a hiatus hernia – when part of your stomach moves up into your chest

Simple lifestyle changes can help stop or reduce heartburn.

Do

  • eat smaller, more frequent meals
  • raise 1 end of your bed 10 to 20cm by putting something under your bed or mattress – make it so your chest and head are above the level of your waist, so stomach acid does not travel up towards your throat
  • try to lose weight if you're overweight
  • try to find ways to relax

Don't

  • do not have food or drink that triggers your symptoms
  • do not eat within 3 or 4 hours before bed
  • do not wear clothes that are tight around your waist
  • do not smoke
  • do not drink too much alcohol
  • do not stop taking any prescribed medicine without speaking to a doctor first

A pharmacist can help with heartburn and acid reflux

Speak to a pharmacist for advice if you keep getting heartburn.

They can recommend medicines called antacids that can help ease your symptoms.

It's best to take these with food or soon after eating, as this is when you're most likely to get heartburn. They may also work for longer if taken with food.

See a GP if:

  • lifestyle changes and pharmacy medicines are not helping
  • you have heartburn most days for 3 weeks or more
  • you have other symptoms, like food getting stuck in your throat, frequently being sick or losing weight for no reason

A GP can provide stronger treatments and help rule out any more serious possible causes of your symptoms.

To ease symptoms of acid reflux, a GP may prescribe medicine that reduces how much acid your stomach makes, such as:

You may be prescribed 1 of these medicines for a month or 2 to see if your symptoms stop.

Important

Go back to your GP if your symptoms come back after stopping your medicine. You may need a long-term prescription.

Tests and surgery for heartburn and acid reflux

If medicines do not help or your symptoms are severe, a GP may refer you to a specialist for:

  • tests to find out what's causing your symptoms, such as a gastroscopy (where a thin tube with a camera is passed down your throat)
  • an operation to stop acid reflux – called a laparoscopic fundoplication

Page last reviewed: 24/08/2017
Next review due: 24/08/2020