Symptoms A-Z

Heartburn Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your heartburn symptoms with Buoy, including 6 causes and common questions concerning your heartburn.

An image depicting a person suffering from heartburn symptoms

Heartburn Symptom Checker

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 6 Possible Heartburn Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Heartburn Symptoms

You've just turned in for the night. It's been a long day and you have an early meeting in the morning. Suddenly, you feel a burning sensation in your chest. You sit up and it seems to get better. But as soon as you lay back down, the pain comes back. If you've experienced this before, you can credit the burning and discomfort to heartburn. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid travels up into your esophagus and burns its lining [1].

Common heartburn symptoms include:

  • Burning sensation in the chest located behind the breastbone
  • Discomfort that typically presents itself after eating
  • Chest pain, often behind the breast bone
  • Burning in the throat
  • Tasting sour, acidic, or salty fluid towards the throat
  • Feeling as if food is stuck in your throat
  • Regurgitating food

If you only occasionally experience heartburn symptoms, you aren't alone and probably don't need to worry about an underlying medical issue. But if you're battling the burn daily or close to it, a medical evaluation is recommended.

If you're experiencing any of the following heartburn symptoms, it's time to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

  • Your heartburn symptoms increase in frequency and severity
  • You have trouble swallowing liquids or solids
  • Your heartburn sometimes causes you to vomit
  • You begin to lose weight unintentionally
  • You rely on antacids for more than two weeks on a consistent basis
  • Heartburn medication does not seem to help

Heartburn Causes

  • Stress:If you find yourself under tremendous amounts of stress on a regular basis, heartburn can begin to occur frequently, even if you've never experienced it before [2].
  • Eating Habits: Eating trigger foods like spicy food, garlic, citrus, deep-fried or fatty foods, onions, tomatoes, tomato sauce, pizza, or chocolate can lead to heartburn symptoms [3]. Drinking trigger beverages like tomato juice, citrus juice, caffeinated beverages, carbonated beverages, or alcohol can also lead to heartburn. This is especially problematic if you eat right before bed, have midnight snacks, or eat after drinking alcohol.
  • Being overweight: Obesity causes a variety of issues, including heartburn.
  • Smoking: This is a huge cause of frequent heartburn symptoms [4].
  • Acid Reflux Disease: Acid reflux can be caused by anatomic issues in the stomach and esophagus, such as a hiatal hernia [5]. This happens when the upper portion of the stomach moves up into the chest and allows stomach acid to easily enter the esophagus.
  • Peptic ulcer disease: Heartburn is a very common issue when people have ulcers.
  • Pregnancy: Heartburn is a common symptom of pregnancy. Though annoying, it usually disappears immediately after giving birth.
  • Heart disease or heart attack: Sometimes people just feel like they have a little heartburn, when in fact they are having a heart attack. This is why if you are having chest pain, this needs immediate medical attention [6].

Keep in mind that for most people, occasional heartburn isn't a sign of anything serious. But frequent heartburn needs to be evaluated. Keep track of when the burning strikes, how intense it is, and how long it lasts, as well as what you are eating and drinking around the attacks and then share this with your doctor.

6 Possible Heartburn Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced heartburn. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Acid reflux disease (gerd)

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in infants refers to the passage of stomach contents into the throat causing troublesome symptoms, such as feeding intolerance, inadequate oral intake of calories and/or poor weight gain. Vomiting or visible regurgitation ...

Read more

Indigestion (dyspepsia)

Indigestion, also called upset stomach, dyspepsia, or functional dyspepsia, is not a disease but a collection of very common symptoms. Note: Heartburn is a separate condition.

Common causes are eating too much or too rapidly; greasy or spicy foods; overdoing caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated beverages; smoking; and anxiety. Some antibiotics, pain relievers, and vitamin/mineral supplements can cause indigestion.

The most common symptoms are pain, discomfort, and bloating in the upper abdomen soon after eating.

Indigestion that lasts longer than two weeks, and does not respond to simple treatment, may indicate a more serious condition. Upper abdominal pain that radiates to the jaw, neck, or arm is a medical emergency.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. If the symptoms began suddenly, laboratory tests on blood, breath, and stool may be ordered. Upper endoscopy or abdominal x-ray may be done.

For functional dyspepsia – "ordinary" indigestion – treatment and prevention are the same. Eating five or six smaller meals per day with lighter, simpler food; managing stress; and finding alternatives for some medications will provide relief.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea, stomach bloating, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting

Symptoms that always occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): dyspeptic symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with indigestion (dyspepsia): vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Functional dyspepsia/indigestion

Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a condition that causes pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. In some cases, indigestion also causes heartburn, burping, and nausea. Indigestion or dyspepsia is a very common complaint and in most cases there is no serious underlying cause. This is when doctors call it 'functional'.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: stomach bloating, nausea, dyspeptic symptoms, bloating after meals, vomiting

Symptoms that always occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion: dyspeptic symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with functional dyspepsia/indigestion: vomiting (old) blood or passing tarry stools, rectal bleeding, bloody diarrhea, fever

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Heartburn Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your heartburn

Barrett's esophagus

Barrett esophagus is a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus changes. These changes occur after longstanding gastro-esophageal reflux. Symptoms of gastro-esophageal reflux can be regurgitation, heartburn. Barretts esophagus is associated with a risk of developing malignant esophageal disease.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: nausea, regurgitation, heartburn, sore throat, dry cough

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Achalasia

Achalasia is a disorder of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. This condition affects the ability of the esophagus to move food into the stomach.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: pain below the ribs, regurgitation, unintentional weight loss, heartburn, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Spasm of the esophagus

The esophagus is the muscular tube that passes behind the heart, and carries food, liquid, and saliva from the mouth to the stomach. In a condition called diffuse esophageal spasm (DES), the tube contracts uncontrollably, causing trouble swallowing and chest pain.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: dry cough, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone, heartburn, trouble swallowing, burning chest pain

Symptoms that never occur with spasm of the esophagus: shortness of breath

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Heartburn Treatments and Relief

  • Eat Smarter: Avoid eating at least three hours before bed. Also, decrease the size of your portions when you do eat and don't chow down too quickly. Finally, avoid trigger foods and drinks. Avoid smoking and alcohol before bed and try to limit overall exposure as well.
  • Lose weight: This will help your health and diminish your heartburn.
  • Quit smoking: Likewise, this helps a variety of health issues, including heartburn.
  • Raise the head of your bed: Try sleeping on your left side or with your head elevated. You can either raise the edge of your bed on cinder blocks or use pillows.
  • Medication: There are both prescription and over-the-counter medications that can help prevent heartburn. Antacids can provide almost immediate relief. Proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers are for more chronic symptoms.

  • Baking Soda: Baking soda can neutralize stomach acid. Try mixing a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and drinking it as soon as symptoms begin.

If heartburn symptoms have begun to affect your quality of life, it's time to either see your doctor or make a few lifestyle changes to banish the burn for good!

FAQs About Heartburn

Here are some frequently asked questions about heartburn.

Can stress cause heartburn?

Stress can make heartburn worse. Some believe that daily stress can alter your perception thresholds for pain, making you more sensitive to smaller amounts of acids in the esophagus. Some studies also show that stress can exacerbate the damage acid does to the esophagus.

How to know if you have heartburn?

Heartburn often presents in the form of chest pain, regurgitation (acidic material mixed with small amounts of undigested food), and difficulty swallowing. Sometimes it also triggers cough and the sensation of having a lump in the throat (irrespective of swallowing).

What causes frequent heartburn?

One common cause is a weak/relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a circular ring of muscle of the esophagus that prevents the backup of stomach content into the esophagus. If the diaphragm muscle is too weak, the stomach can also partially slip through the diaphragm into the chest (hiatus hernia), making acid reflux more likely. Obesity and pregnancy are common contributing factors.

What does heartburn look like?

Acid reflux is when the acid that is normally in the stomach backs up into the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach). A small amount of acid reflux is normal. But if the reflux happens frequently, it can give the sensation of heartburn as a result of the irritation to the lining of the esophagus.

What does heartburn feel like when pregnant?

Heartburn occurs in 30 to 50 percent of pregnancies as the esophageal sphincter become more lax than usual [7]. It can present as burning sensation in the chest and/or throat, an acid taste in the mouth, stomach or chest pain, nausea/vomiting, trouble swallowing, a raspy voice or sore throat, or a cough.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Heartburn

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Do you burp up food or liquids after a meal?
  • Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Do you currently smoke?
  • What is your body mass?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your heartburn

Heartburn Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced heartburn have also experienced:

  • 7% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
  • 7% Nausea
  • 4% Fatigue

People who have experienced heartburn were most often matched with:

  • 42% Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)
  • 42% Functional Dyspepsia/Indigestion
  • 14% Indigestion (Dyspepsia)

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Heartburn Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your heartburn

References

  1. Heartburn. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  2. Naliboff BD, Mayer M, Fass R, et al. The effect of life stress on symptoms of heartburn. Psychosom Med. 2004;66(3):426-434. NCBI Link.
  3. Diet changes for GERD. IFFGD. Updated November 7, 2017. IFFGD Link.
  4. Smoking and the digestive system. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published September 2013. NIDDK Link.
  5. Hiatal hernia. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated April 30, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  6. Warning signs of a heart attack. American Heart Association. Updated June 30, 2016. AHA Link.
  7. Gerson LB. Treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease during pregnancy. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2012;8(11):763-4. NCBI Link.

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.