Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, causing burning, irritation, or pain in the chest. This pain often appears or is made worse after eating. Occasional heartburn is often caused by overeating and poor diet and may not be a need for concern. But constant heartburn may indicate an underlying health issue that should be investigated.
This article discusses the causes and treatment options for persistent heartburn.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause constant heartburn that occurs more than twice a week over a period of several weeks.
The main symptom is heartburn (pain or burning in the chest), but you may also experience:
- Sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling like there is a lump in your throat
How Common Is GERD?
GERD is very common in the United States, affecting approximately 20% of the population. You are more likely to have GERD if you are pregnant, a smoker, taking certain medications, or have obesity.
There are several gastrointestinal diseases that can cause constant or recurrent heartburn. These include:
- Peptic ulcers: Peptic ulcers are painful sores that occur in the stomach. Heartburn can be a symptom of ulcers, but in contrast to other causes of heartburn, ulcer symptoms may improve when you eat and get worse when your stomach is empty. Other symptoms of ulcers are weight loss, bloating, nausea, and vomiting.
- Hiatal hernia: Hiatal hernia is a condition in which the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm. Hiatal hernia is very common and causes heartburn and other symptoms associated with acid reflux, including difficulty swallowing.
- Esophageal motility disorders: Esophageal motility disorders are disorders that prevent the normal rhythmic motion, called peristalsis, that moves food down the esophagus. Some examples include achalasia, jackhammer esophagus, nutcracker esophagus, and distal esophageal spasm.
Esophagitis is a broad term that refers to any inflammation of the esophagus. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain when swallowing
- Hoarseness or sore throat
Esophagitis can be caused by many things, including viruses or other germs, medications, or frequent vomiting.
Eosinophilic esophagitis is a type of esophagitis in which an excess number of white blood cells, called eosinophils, are present in the tissue of the esophagus. It is thought to be related to allergies.
Depending on the underlying cause of your constant heartburn, additional symptoms can often include generalized indigestion, such as bloating and stomach pain.
If stomach acid is coming up your esophagus at night while you are lying down, you may wake up with a sore throat, bad breath, or hoarseness.
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
It is helpful for some individuals who have constant heartburn to avoid certain foods that may trigger their symptoms.
Foods that are associated with heartburn include:
- Fried and fatty foods
- Carbonated beverages
- Foods high in citric acids, such as oranges or lemons
It may be helpful to eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than infrequent large meals.
If you suffer from acid reflux, it may be helpful to elevate your upper body at night while sleeping.
There are several different medications that can be used to treat heartburn. Some only treat immediate symptoms, but others can actually heal damaged tissue in the esophagus.
Many of these medications are available over the counter, but they are still capable of producing side effects. Long-term use of any of these medications is not recommended unless you are specifically told to use them regularly by your healthcare provider:
- Antacids: Examples of antacids include Tums or Rolaids (calcium carbonate), or Maalox liquid (aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, and simethicone). These medications neutralize stomach acid, which can relieve symptoms, but do nothing to treat the underlying condition.
- H2 (histamine 2) blockers: These medications prevent the formation of acid in the stomach. Examples of H2 blockers include Pepcid (famotidine), and Tagamet (cimetidine). Zantac (ranitidine) is not recommended and was removed from the market in April 2020 due to concerns about possible harmful impurities when stored at high temperatures for long periods of time. The active ingredient in Zantac was changed to famotidine and it is now available as Zantac 360.
- Proton pump inhibitors: Examples of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) include Prevacid (lansoprazole), Prilosec (omeprazole), and Dexilant (dexlansoprazole). Like H2 blockers, PPIs also reduce stomach acid but tend to be more potent in their effects. They are also capable of helping to heal damaged esophageal tissue. They are widely prescribed for a variety of acid-related diseases and some (including Prevacid and Prilosec, but not Dexilant) are available over the counter.
- Baclofen: Baclofen is a different class of medication completely. It is a skeletal muscle relaxant that is occasionally prescribed to relax the lower esophageal sphincter so that it remains closed and prevents stomach acid from regurgitating back into the esophagus. Baclofen is only available with a prescription.
Don't hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have questions about any of these medications.
Surgery is usually reserved for individuals whose symptoms cannot be controlled with medications or lifestyle changes.
A Nissen fundoplication is a procedure in which the upper part of the stomach, called the fundus, is wrapped around the lower part of the esophagus. This serves to reinforce the lower portion of the esophagus and prevents food from coming back up through the esophageal sphincter.
Another procedure that may be used is a LINX device implantation. A LINX device uses magnets to keep the lower esophageal sphincter closed the majority of the time but still allows it to open so that food can pass through to the stomach.
The following tips can help to prevent or minimize symptoms of heartburn:
- Avoid overeating and instead eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Identify food triggers and avoid them.
- Remain upright for approximately one hour after eating.
- Do not eat right before bedtime.
- Elevate your upper body while sleeping rather than lying flat.
- Stop smoking.
- Manage stress.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
You should see a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and for proper treatment if:
- You have constant heartburn that won't subside
- Your symptoms of heartburn are becoming more severe or frequent
- You have taken an over-the-counter PPI for the recommended two weeks and your symptoms return
- You experience vomiting or difficulty swallowing with your heartburn
- You have hoarseness or wheezing
- You experience unexpected weight loss
Untreated acid disorders can lead to complications, including Barrett's esophagus (damage to the lining of the esophagus), esophageal cancer, or scarring or narrowing of the esophagus.
You should seek care immediately if you vomit blood or material that looks like coffee grounds (this could be blood). You should also seek care immediately if you notice blood in your stools or have black or tar-like stools (this also might be blood).
If your vomiting is large, green, yellow, or forceful, you should seek care urgently by going to an emergency room.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Symptoms of a heart attack can be mistaken for heartburn. Go to the emergency room or call 911 if you experience chest pain accompanied by:
- Pain in your arms, neck, back, jaw, or stomach
- Cold sweats
- Shortness of breath
Constant heartburn can be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as GERD, esophagitis, or other gastrointestinal disorders. If you experience frequent heartburn or heartburn more than once a week for several weeks, consult a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.
A Word From Verywell
Heartburn is a common and uncomfortable condition. Fortunately, symptoms can be greatly improved with adequate diagnosis and treatment. Don't hesitate to contact your healthcare provider if you experience constant heartburn.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often is too often to experience heartburn?
Experiencing heartburn more than once a week over a period of several weeks may indicate an underlying condition.
Will drinking water help heartburn?
Water may dilute stomach acid, but drinking water is unlikely to provide adequate relief of severe heartburn. However, drinking enough water aids digestion and may help to prevent digestive problems such as heartburn from developing. Hydration is also important for overall health.
What foods help heartburn?
Oatmeal, sweet potatoes, bananas, green vegetables, carrots, bananas, watermelon, nuts, herbal tea, milk and ginger can also help with heartburn.
How long does heartburn last?
This depends on a number of factors, including any underlying conditions or treatments that are used. However, it is not uncommon for heartburn to last a couple hours or more after eating.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.
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Antacids are usually the first type of drugs doctors recommend for chronic heartburn. You can get them over the counter. They work by stamping out the acid in your stomach.How do you fight constant heartburn? ›
- Maintain a healthy weight. ...
- Avoid tightfitting clothing, which puts pressure on your abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Avoid foods that trigger your heartburn.
- Avoid lying down after a meal. ...
- Avoid late meals.
The most common cause is food that's acidic or high in fat—like citrus fruits, tomatoes, onions, chocolate, coffee, cheese, and peppermint. Spicy foods or large meals can also be the root of distress. Other sources of heartburn include aspirin or ibuprofen, as well as some sedatives and blood pressure medications.How do you live with chronic heartburn? ›
- Eat smaller meals more often. ...
- Avoid eating just before bedtime. ...
- Skip foods that cause heartburn. ...
- Stay away from alcohol. ...
- Use antacids. ...
- Elevate your bed. ...
- Wear comfortable clothing. ...
- Stop smoking.
Chronic heartburn that doesn't go away despite popping several Tums or Rolaids could indicate that you've got GERD.What drink gets rid of heartburn fast? ›
Drinks such as ginger tea, certain fruit and vegetable juices, and plant-based milks may benefit people experiencing acid reflux and heartburn. Avoiding citrus juices, carbonated beverages, and alcohol can also help to reduce symptom frequency and severity.Why wont my heartburn go away? ›
Heartburn occurring more than twice per week is a symptom of GERD and may require stronger or prescription medications. Persistent heartburn can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as Barrett's esophagus, hiatal hernia, or esophageal cancer.Should I be worried if I get heartburn everyday? ›
Heartburn that is more frequent or interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of a more serious condition that requires medical care.Does constant heartburn mean heart problems? ›
What does heartburn have to do with your heart? Nothing! Despite its name, heartburn, or acid indigestion, is related to your esophagus. But because the esophagus and heart are located near each other, either one can cause chest pain (angina).What's the difference between acid reflux and heartburn? ›
Acid reflux is the backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus. The feeling of acid reflux is heartburn: a mild burning sensation in the mid-chest, often occurring after meals or when lying down. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious form of acid reflux.
- Antacids. Doctors may recommend antacids to relieve mild heartburn and other mild GER and GERD symptoms. ...
- H2 blockers. H2 blockers lower the amount of acid your stomach makes. ...
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). ...
- Other medicines. ...
- Fundoplication. ...
- Bariatric surgery. ...
- Keep a food journal and avoid trigger foods. ...
- Resist the urge to overeat or eat quickly. ...
- Avoid late meals, snacking before bed and eating before exercising. ...
- Eat alkaline foods, like a ripe banana. ...
- Wear loose-fitting clothing. ...
- Adjust your sleep position.
This may be because you have been misdiagnosed with GERD, your diet is causing symptoms, or you are taking your medication incorrectly. If PPIs aren't treating your symptoms, work with your healthcare provider to figure out why they aren't working and what alternative treatments you can try.Why is my antacid not working? ›
You're not taking your acid reflux medication correctly (you're either taking the wrong dose, taking the medicine at the wrong time, or missing doses). Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you're unsure how to take your GERD medication. You're taking over-the-counter antacids and need something stronger.What is a homemade drink for heartburn? ›
Sip a baking soda concoction
Baking soda is alkaline, which means it neutralizes stomach acid and makes for one of the best home remedies for heartburn relief. Mix ½ teaspoon baking soda and a few drops of lemon juice in ½ cup warm water. Don't forget to add the lemon juice!
Lemon water. Lemon juice is generally considered very acidic, but a small amount of lemon juice mixed with warm water and honey has an alkalizing effect that neutralizes stomach acid. Also, honey has natural antioxidants, which protect the health of cells.What happens if heartburn lasts all day? ›
Frequent/constant heartburn symptoms or heartburn everyday
If you have constant heartburn, you should schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist. Heartburn symptoms include: Burning sensation in the chest or throat. A sour taste in the mouth.
If the pain is not relieved shortly after taking antacids, or is accompanied by these symptoms, seek emergency medical care: Squeezing/tightening in the chest. Feeling out of breath. Pain, aching or discomfort radiating from the chest to the arms, back or neck.Can heartburn damage your heart? ›
People who have GERD are more likely than others to end up with heart disease, characterized by abnormal heartbeats, plaque buildup in the heart arteries or reduced blood flow to the heart.What does chronic heartburn feel like? ›
It's a painful burning sensation in the middle of your chest caused by irritation to the lining of the esophagus caused by stomach acid. This burning can come on anytime but is often worse after eating. For many people heartburn worsens when they recline or lie in bed, which makes it hard to get a good night's sleep.
Antacids are an effective way to treat heartburn and indigestion. But they're not meant for long-term daily use.How do you know if you have gastritis or GERD? ›
Gastritis is a condition that causes inflammation in the stomach lining. Bacterial infections are the most common cause of chronic gastritis. GERD is when a person often and repeatedly has acid reflux or heartburn. GERD is a serious condition that can eventually lead to a person experiencing complications.Does Tums help acid reflux? ›
Do TUMS help acid reflux and GERD? While products like TUMS Ultra Strength 1000 help relieve occasional acid reflux and heartburn, it is not a recommended treatment for GERD.What does a gastroenterologist do for heartburn? ›
Histamine H2 receptor blockers, such as Pepcid and Zantac, which reduce the amount of acid the stomach makes. Proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, which block the enzymes that produce stomach acid. We use PPIs to diagnose GERD.Does drinking water help heartburn? ›
Does Water Help Heartburn? Drinking water can help to alleviate heartburn symptoms in a few different ways. First, water can help to dilute stomach acid and make it less irritating to the esophagus. This can reduce the burning sensation in the chest that is characteristic of heartburn.What conditions may have heartburn as a symptom? ›
While occasional heartburn after eating is common, it may also be a sign of more serious health conditions such as GERD, hiatal hernias, or stomach ulcers. In severe cases, heartburn can also mimic symptoms of heart disease and gallstones.What foods help acid reflux go away fast? ›
- Whole Grains. Whole grains are grains that retain all parts of the seed (bran, germ, and endosperm). ...
- Ginger. ...
- 3. Fruits and Vegetables. ...
- Yogurt. ...
- Lean proteins. ...
- Legumes. ...
- Nuts and seeds. ...
- Healthy fats.
If you are experiencing regular heartburn or acid reflux, then drinking soda is an especially bad idea. This is because soda will actually exacerbate the symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn, making the pain more severe and the symptoms more frequent.What deficiency causes heartburn? ›
If your bones have been aching lately, you're feeling down in the dumps, are having sleeping problems, or experiencing acid reflux, you may think these are simply signs of aging. These symptoms on their own may not signal a major problem, but put them together and it could mean that you're not getting enough vitamin D.