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Eating chillies can trigger heartburn.

Eating chillies can trigger heartburn.
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Heartburn (indigestion)

Heartburn is a feeling of burning pain or discomfort in the chest, usually after eating.

The pain typically worsens when you are lying down or bending over.

Heartburn that is mild and occasional can usually be managed with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. In more serious cases, other treatment may be needed.

What causes heartburn?

Normally, a ring of muscle at the lower end of the oesophagus (the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach) relaxes to let food in, and tightens to prevent stomach acid from escaping.

However, if the muscle relaxes when it shouldn’t, or is weak, stomach acid is able to rise up into the oesophagus where it can cause pain and irritation. Heartburn can also occur when the stomach is producing a lot of acid, such as when stressed.

Common triggers for heartburn

Some people experience heartburn regardless of what they eat. Others find they only get it after eating certain foods or meals. Common triggers for heartburn include:

  • large meals
  • fatty or spicy foods
  • coffee and cola drinks
  • citrus foods
  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • cigarettes
  • peppermints.

Other things that can increase your risk of heartburn are:

  • being overweight or obese
  • being pregnant
  • taking certain medications (check with your doctor).
  • eating a large meal
  • exercising too soon after eating

Looking after yourself

If you have heartburn, there are some lifestyle changes that may help prevent it, or at least manage the symptoms.

These include:

  • eating smaller, more frequent meals instead of large meals
  • avoiding any foods you know trigger heartburn
  • avoiding lying down soon after a meal - wait for 3 hours
  • don’t eat too late at night
  • lift the head of your bed so you are raised from the waist up
  • losing weight, if you are overweight
  • stopping smoking, if you smoke
  • avoid tightfitting clothing.

You may also want to try over-the-counter medicines called antacids, which neutralise stomach acid. If you are pregnant, check with your doctor or pharmacist if these medications are safe for you to take.

When to see a doctor about heartburn or indigestion

If over-the-counter treatments don't work, or you rely on them often, see your doctor. If you have heartburn more than twice a week, it could be a symptom of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), in which case you may need prescription medicines.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommends that you discuss any medication you are taking for GORD or heartburn with your doctor or specialist to assess the possibility of reducing your dose or stopping the medication if safe to do so. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Read about other symptoms of GORD.

If you experience chest pain and have any doubt about whether it is heartburn or a heart attack, seek immediate medical attention by calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: July 2017

Recommended links

Need more information?

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Heartburn | myVMC

Heartburn is the common classical symptom of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Heartburn is experienced as a gripping discomfort below the breastbone that may be made worse by lying, eating or bending.

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Heartburn - myDr.com.au

Heartburn is a common form of indigestion caused by gastro-oesophageal reflux - reflux of stomach contents into the oesophagus (gullet).

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Somac Heartburn Relief | myVMC

Somac Heartburn Relief is used to treat gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), including heartburn. It contains pantoprazole, a proton pump inhibitor.

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Heartburn treatments - myDr.com.au

Treatment for heartburn will depend on how often your heartburn occurs and how much it impacts on your life. Treatments include antacids, medicines or surgery, as well as self-help measures.

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Heartburn in Pregnancy | myVMC

Heartburn is a symptom commonly experienced by pregnant women such that some women and obstetricians even consider it to be a normal occurrence in a healthy pregnancy.

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Heartburn in pregnancy | Parenthub

Pregnancy might be a beautiful miracle but it can also be an uncomfortable one, especially when you are experiencing the worst heartburn of your life. And though we may not be able to help you with arguments over baby names or even 'cankles', we can help you with ins and outs of heartburn ... pun intended.

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Heartburn in pregnancy | Parenthub

Pregnancy might be a beautiful miracle but it can also be an uncomfortable one, especially when you are experiencing the worst heartburn of your life. And though we may not be able to help you with arguments over baby names or even 'cankles', we can help you with ins and outs of heartburn ... pun intended.

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Mylanta Heartburn Relief | myVMC

Mylanta is a medicine used to relieve symptoms of heartburn, gastro oesophageal reflux disease and indigestion by neutralising stomach acid.

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Acid Reflux and Heartburn | myVMC

Heartburn or acid reflux is a symptom of the disorder gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). It is described as a gripping discomfort situated below the breast bone.

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Heartbrun (reflux, GORD, GERD) information video | myVMC

Heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disorder, GORD, GERD) is common and rarely serious. Heartburn symptoms are caused by acid reflux and include chest pain.

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