Heartburn is a burning pain or discomfort felt in the middle of the chest. Heartburn is caused by acid reflux, when acidic gastric juices travel upwards through the oesophagus, sometimes leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. Usually, the pain or discomfort is felt in the lower part of the oesophagus or breast bone, but it may also be felt further up.
Heartburn often occurs after eating acidic foods or heavy meals. Tight clothes and bending down make the symptoms worse, as does lying down, especially at night. A typical underlying cause of heartburn is gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), which is a functional disorder of the stomach and oesophagus.
Heartburn is a very common problem and it can be treated at home. Antacids that neutralise the acid and relieve heartburn are available at pharmacies without a prescription. Follow the instructions on the package. The pharmacy staff will help you choose the right product. You can use over-the-counter antacids daily for a couple of weeks, and it may take a couple of days before symptoms improve.
To prevent the recurrence of heartburn, you can also try:
- avoiding foods that irritate the stomach (acidic foods and fruit, coffee, greasy foods and chocolate).
- avoiding heavy meals before bedtime.
- keeping alcohol consumption moderate, and quitting smoking.
- losing weight if you are overweight.
- raising the head of your bed to avoid heartburn at night.
When should you seek medical advice?
If you experience sudden/unexpected abdominal or chest pain in addition to heartburn, you must seek medical assistance immediately. In the case of emergency, always call 112. These symptoms may be signs of heart problems. You should also seek medical assistance if you have hematemesis or have difficulty swallowing.
Seek medical advice if
- your symptoms include vomiting.
- over-the-counter medicines are not effective or you are losing weight.
This Self-care instruction has been produced in collaboration with Duodecim Terveyskirjasto