Heartburn is a burning sensation in the centre of your chest. It’s caused by acid reflux – stomach acid escaping into your oesophagus (food pipe) and back to your throat.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021


Heartburn can last for a few minutes or for a few hours and can be annoying and painful. Other heartburn symptoms are:

  • A sour taste at the back of your mouth
  • A feeling that something’s lodged in your throat
  • Regurgitating food
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea

Heartburn is a common condition, sometimes accompanied by indigestion, that usually occurs after eating – especially overeating or late-night eating.

Heartburn symptoms can also occur at night when you’re lying in your bed, as it’s easier for stomach acid to seep into your oesophagus.

In most cases, heartburn can be relieved by taking a heartburn remedy and making lifestyle changes.

Causes of heartburn

Heartburn symptoms caused by acid reflux can be triggered by certain foods and drinks, including:

  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits and citrus fruit juices
  • Fatty, fried or spicy foods
  • Onions, garlic and tomatoes

You’re more likely to suffer from heartburn symptoms if you’re:

  • Pregnant – pregnancy weakens the valve at the top of your stomach
  • A smoker
  • Overweight
  • Stressed

Certain medicines can also cause heartburn including anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, and aspirin. Stomach ulcers can also cause heartburn.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Conditions related to heartburn

Heartburn is often a symptom of two common conditions:

Getting a diagnosis for heartburn

If you’re having two bouts of heartburn a week, you should make an appointment with your GP.

Your GP will discuss your heartburn symptoms with you and may refer you for tests. These tests may include:

  • A gastroscopy (endoscopy) - a tiny camera to film inside your digestive system
  • An X-ray of your digestive system
  • Ambulatory pH testing – to check the acidity levels in your oesophagus as you move around

The results will help your GP exclude or diagnose any possible conditions and provide you with treatment you may need. They may also refer you to a gastroenterologist, a consultant specialising in the digestive system.

Seek medical attention immediately if you have very painful heartburn accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or a burning sensation radiating down your arms or neck
  • Dizziness
  • A cold sweat

Treatments for heartburn

Most heartburn symptoms can be relieved with lifestyle changes, medication and, in rare cases, surgery.

Lifestyle Changes

To help relieve and prevent heartburn and heartburn symptoms, you should:

  • Lose any excess weight
  • Follow an acid reflux diet to avoid trigger foods and drinks
  • Eat less – and eat earlier in the evening
  • Stop smoking
  • Raise the head of your bed so you’re lying on a slight tilt


Your GP or consultant may prescribe medication to reduce the amount of acid produced in your stomach. Alternatively, your GP might prescribe a heartburn remedy, such as an antacid. Antacids are also available as over-the-counter treatments.


If lifestyle changes and medication fail to relieve your heartburn, your GP or consultant might suggest a procedure called a gastroscopy to look inside your oesophagus. However, this procedure will usually only be considered if you have gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

If you are suffering from painful gallstones or gallbladder disease, your GP may recommend gallbladder removal surgery.

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