Prevent and manage heartburn
Relief from the unpleasant symptoms of heartburn may be possible with some changes to diet and lifestyle. If these changes don’t help, over-the-counter medicines can be useful for short-term relief from symptoms, but medical advice should be sought if symptoms don't go away or keep recurring.
Tips for preventing and managing heartburn include:
- Don't go to bed with a full stomach. Eat meals at least three hours before lying down - this will give food time to digest and empty from your stomach, and acid levels will have a chance to decrease before you lay down.
- Don't overeat. Decrease the size of portions at meal times or try eating four to five small meals a day instead of three large ones.
- Eat slowly. Take time to eat - don't rush. Try putting your fork down between bites.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes.
- Avoid heartburn triggers. Stay away from food and drink that you find triggers your heartburn symptoms. A good way to work out what foods cause your heartburn symptoms is to keep a food diary.
- Lose weight. If you are overweight, losing weight can help relieve heartburn symptoms.
- Stop smoking. Nicotine, one of the main active ingredients in cigarettes, can weaken the lower oesophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the oesophagus and stomach, allowing the acid-containing contents of the stomach to enter the oesophagus.
- Avoid alcohol. If your aim is to unwind after a stressful day, try exercise, meditation, stretching or deep breathing, instead of drinking alcohol.
- Keep a diary or heartburn log. Keep track of when heartburn hits and the specific activities that seem to trigger the incidents.
If your heartburn is worse when lying down:
- Raise the head of your bed. Adjust your bed so that your head and chest are higher than your feet. You can do this by placing 15-cm (6-in) blocks under the bedposts at the head of the bed. Don't use piles of pillows to achieve the same goal. You will only put your head at an angle that can increase pressure on your stomach and make your heartburn worse.
- Eat earlier. Try not to eat within three hours of going to bed.
If your heartburn worsens after exercise:
- Time your meals. Wait at least two hours after a meal before exercising. If you work out any sooner, you may trigger heartburn.
- Drink more water. Drink plenty of water before and during exercise. This will help keep you hydrated.
Over-the-counter heartburn treatments
Antacids: Antacids neutralise excess stomach acid to relieve heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach upset. They are also occasionally recommended to help relieve the pain of ulcers. Some antacids also contain simeticone, an ingredient that helps eliminate excess gas. You should take antacids exactly as directed by your GP or pharmacist, or according to the manufacturer's directions.
Acid blockers: These drugs relieve heartburn, acid indigestion and sour stomach and some are now available without a prescription for short-term use (such as ranitidine and omeprazole). Acid blockers work by reducing the production of stomach acid.
Do not overuse over-the-counter medicines or avoid seeking medical advice if your symptoms continue to bother you for more than a couple of weeks or they fail to respond to these remedies. You may need further tests to confirm the exact diagnosis or medication available only with a prescription.