Heartburn is a painful and burning sensation experienced in the central part of the chest. It results from the reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus, a tube that passes through the chest in close proximity to the heart. The discomfort often gets worse in the evening, after eating, or when bending over or lying down.

Occasional heartburn is a common occurrence. It can persist for a duration ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. However, when heartburn becomes persistent, it signifies a symptom of chronic acid reflux, often diagnosed as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.

With lifestyle modifications and over-the-counter drugs, the majority of people can self-treat their heartburn discomfort. While frequent heartburn that disrupts one’s everyday activities could be symptoms of a more serious health condtiton that requires treatment.


Distinguishing between heartburn and other chest pains can be challenging. When heartburn is caused by acid reflux, one might experience symptoms such as:

  • A burning pain in the chest that sometimes happens at night and generally happens after eating
  • Pain that gets worse when one bends over or lies down
  • Acidic or bitter aftertaste
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Regurgitation of food
  • Burping

If any of the signs and symptoms persist, consult a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. Especially in cases where:

  • Heartburn happens on a weekly basis
  • Nonprescription drug use does not alleviate symptoms
  • There is a tightness or squeezing in the chest area, similar to angina
  • Gets persistent nausea or vomiting
  • Has trouble swallowing
  • Losing weight due to eating difficulties, poor appetite, or not getting enough calories
  • Over the age of 60

If one experience significant chest pain or pressure, get medical attention immediately especially if it is accompanied by jaw or arm pain or trouble breathing, as these can be symptoms of heart attack.


With GERD, heartburn arises when stomach fluids, comprising acids and enzymes, flow backward into the esophagus. While the stomach is shielded by a thick mucus lining to withstand these substances, the esophagus lacks such protection.

The lower esophageal sphincter, a valve located at the base of the esophagus, is responsible for preventing the regurgitation of stomach contents. However, it may be weakened or fail to fully close, leading to the occurrence of heartburn. If one is lying down or hunched over, the acid backup can be worse.

Several factors can contribute to the weakening or excessive relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, leading to acid reflux and heartburn. These include inhaling smoke, increased abdominal pressure from factors like body weight, tight clothing, or pregnancy, lying down too soon after eating, and the intake of certain foods and medications, among others.

Risk factors

Heartburn is an occasional occurrence for many individuals. This is often triggered by several factors, such as:

  • Food, such as spicy meals, fatty, oily, or fried foods, onions, citrus and tomato products, peppermint, and chocolate
  • Carbonated drinks, coffee, or other caffeinated drinks and alcohol
  • Being overweight
  • Being pregnant
  • Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke