Heartburn: What are the usual causes?

Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest that arises with a bitter taste in the mouth or throat. The indications of heartburn might worsen after eating a large meal or when lying down.

Generally, the symptoms can be treated successfully at home. Nevertheless, if the episodes occur frequently which makes it difficult to eat or swallow, the symptoms might be an indication of a serious medical ailment.

What are the usual causes?


Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest that arises with a bitter taste in the mouth or throat.

Heartburn generally arises if the stomach contents are driven back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that transports food and fluids to the stomach. This tube is connected to the stomach at the cardiac or lower esophageal sphincter. If the sphincter is functioning properly, it closes if food leaves the esophagus and enters the stomach.

  • In some individuals, the cardiac sphincter is not properly working or becomes weakened. This causes the stomach contents to leak into the esophagus. This results to irritation of the esophagus and triggers the symptoms of heartburn.
  • Hiatal hernia can also trigger heartburn. This occurs if a region of the stomach is driven via the diaphragm and into the chest.
  • Pregnancy can also trigger heartburn. The progesterone hormone during pregnancy causes the lower esophageal sphincter to relax. This allows the stomach contents to move into the esophagus and trigger irritation.

Other conditions or lifestyle choices that can aggravate heartburn include:

  • Spicy foods
  • Smoking
  • Overweight or obese
  • Caffeine, alcohol or chocolate
  • Using certain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin


If the individual experiences occasional heartburn, several home measures and lifestyle changes can help reduce the symptoms.

The following must be avoided to reduce the symptoms:

  • Lying down after meals
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Tobacco products
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Chocolate

Some foods that increases the likelihood of heartburn include citrus fruits, carbonated beverages, tomatoes, fried foods and peppermint.

In case these measures do not improve the symptoms, a doctor should be consulted. Depending on the diagnosis given by the doctor, suitable treatment can be given to reduce the symptoms. The commonly prescribed medications for occasional heartburn include:

  • Antacids
  • H2 receptor antagonists (reduces the stomach acid)
  • Proton pump inhibitors (blocks the production of stomach acid)

Even though these medications are beneficial, they can trigger certain side effects.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on heartburn is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage digestive conditions including heartburn, register for a first aid and CPR course with Vancouver First Aid.


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