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5 Tips for Heartburn Relief: Dietitian's Guide to Managing Heartburn

Written By: Frances Spence

Reviewed By: Heather Bray, RD


Hello, health enthusiasts!


Heartburn is symptom that is commonly experienced by many. It's a condition that can be effectively managed with the right strategies. Whether you're dealing with occasional heartburn or chronic symptoms, understanding its causes and solutions is key. So, let's embark on a journey into the world of heartburn, explore who it affects, and discover practical tips to alleviate it.


*Disclaimer: the views and opinions of this article are based on the best available evidence and my professional opinion as a Registered Dietitian. This article is not meant to act as a substitute for medical or medical nutrition advice. For medical or medical nutrition advice that is designed for your individual needs, please consult your doctor or Registered Dietitian. 


What is Heartburn?

Heartburn, despite its misleading name, is not related to the heart. It's a burning sensation in the chest caused by stomach acid travelling up into the esophagus, a condition known as acid reflux. This can cause discomfort and a sour taste in the mouth [1]​​​​​​​​. Occasional heartburn is common, but frequent heartburn might indicate a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) [2].


pregnant woman sitting in a chair on a porch enjoying a cup of coffee and smiling - dietitian ontario, new brunswick, nova scotia heartburn tips to manage discomfort


Who is Affected by Heartburn?

Heartburn affects a wide range of individuals, from teens to older adults. Studies show that approximately 20% of adults in high-income countries experience GERD, which includes frequent heartburn​​ [1]. Factors like excess abdominal adiposity, pregnancy, smoking, and certain medications can increase the likelihood of experiencing heartburn [1], [2]​​​​. Women are also slightly more prone to heartburn than men​​ [3].


How Does Heartburn Happen?

Heartburn happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle at the entrance of the stomach, weakens or relaxes inappropriately. This allows stomach acid to escape into the esophagus, causing irritation and the characteristic burning sensation [3]​​​​. Common triggers include eating to the point of discomfort (i.e. overeating), eating certain foods (see trigger foods below), lying down after meals, and stress​​​​ [2], [4]


Understanding GERD & Managing Heartburn

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic and more severe form of acid reflux. It occurs when the (LES) fails to close properly, leading to frequent or severe acid reflux. GERD is diagnosed when acid reflux occurs more than twice a week and can significantly impact a person's quality of life, causing persistent heartburn, regurgitation, and other complications like esophagitis, inflammation of the esophagus, and even esophageal cancer if left untreated [1], [5]. Managing GERD often requires a combination of lifestyle changes and medication​ [1].



signs of heartburn - dietitian tips to help manage heartburn reflux GERD food triggers to avoid registered dietitian ontario, new brunswick, nova socita, canada

5 Tips for Heartburn Relief

Now, what you've all been waiting for… here are 5 tips for heartburn relief!


  1. Avoid Trigger Foods: Certain foods can trigger heartburn symptoms by relaxing the LES or increasing stomach acid production. Common culprits include: spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes (especially tomato sauce), chocolate, peppermint, caffeine, and alcohol​​ [2], [4]. Keeping a food diary or speaking to a registered dietitian can be a helpful tool in identifying and avoiding these triggers.

  2. Slow Down and Chew Your Food Thoroughly: Eating too quickly can cause you to swallow air, which can increase the risk of acid reflux. Take your time to chew food thoroughly, allowing for better digestion and lessening the likelihood of heartburn​ [4]

  3. Stay Upright After Eating: Lying down immediately after eating can cause acid to flow back into the esophagus. Wait at least two to three hours after a meal before lying down​​​​ [2], [4].

  4. Elevate Your Bed: If heartburn bothers you at night, try elevating the head of your bed by 6-8 inches. This can help prevent acid from flowing back into the esophagus while you sleep. An extra or wedge pillow can be effective​​​​ [2], [4]. 

  5. Try Relaxation Techniques: Stress and anxiety can worsen heartburn. Techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga can help manage stress levels and reduce heartburn symptoms [2], [4].

  6. Quit smoking (if applicable):  Smoking and vaping can weaken the LES and reduce saliva production, which helps neutralize stomach acid. Quitting smoking can improve LES function and reduce heartburn symptoms​​​​ [2].


Non-Prescription Heartburn Medications

For those who need additional relief, several over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help manage heartburn symptoms. Be sure to speak with your doctor and/or pharmacist before taking these:

  • Antacids: These neutralize stomach acid and provide quick, short-term relief. They are best used occasionally as they do not prevent heartburn​​ [6], [7].

  • Histamine-2 Receptor Antagonists (H2RAs): Medications like ranitidine and famotidine reduce stomach acid production and provide more extended relief than antacids but can develop tolerance with repeated use​​​​ [3], [6], [7].

  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs like omeprazole and esomeprazole are highly effective for the long-term management of heartburn and GERD by significantly reducing stomach acid production. They are recommended for frequent heartburn sufferers​​​​ [1], [6], [7]. 


Bottom line

Heartburn doesn't have to be a constant discomfort in your life. By understanding what triggers your symptoms and making strategic lifestyle adjustments, you can take control and effectively reduce heartburn. Remember, if your heartburn persists, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional for a tailored treatment plan.


Stay healthy and informed, and say goodbye to heartburn discomfort!


Book a Free Call with us today if you're looking for further support.


References 

  1. Maret-Ouda J, Markar SR, Lagergren J. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. JAMA [Internet]. 2020 Dec 22 [cited 2024 May 28];324(24):2536. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.21360

  2. Dan L. Fullscript [Internet]. Natural Remedies for Heartburn and GERD; 2021 Sep 3 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://fullscript.com/blog/heartburn-health

  3. Fass R. Functional Heartburn: What It Is and How to Treat It. Gastrointest Endosc Clin North Am [Internet]. 2009 Jan [cited 2024 May 28];19(1):23-33. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.giec.2008.12.002

  4. Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio [Internet]. Get Heartburn Relief with These 10 Tips; 2023 Jul 13 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://www.gastroconsa.com/get-heartburn-relief-with-these-10-tips/.

  5. Malfertheiner P, Hallerbäck B. Clinical manifestations and complications of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Int J Clin Pract [Internet]. 2005 Feb 23 [cited 2024 May 28];59(3):346-55. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1742-1241.2005.00370.x

  6. Vordenberg SE. Nonprescription Heartburn Medications for Adults. JAMA [Internet]. 2023 Sep 29 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2023.16280

  7. McRorie JW, Gibb RD, Miner PB. Evidence-based treatment of frequent heartburn: The benefits and limitations of over-the-counter medications. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract [Internet]. 2014 Jun [cited 2024 May 28];26(6):330-9. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1002/2327-6924.12133

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