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What Causes Heartburn Or Acid Reflux

Certain Foods And Drinks

The Real Causes of Acid Reflux, Heartburn & GERD Dr.Berg

Many people complain that they get reflux after eating certain foods. Common culprits include items high in fat, chocolate, spicy foods, citrusy or acidic foods like oranges and tomatoes, mint, garlic, and onions, as well as carbonated drinks.

These foods may be more difficult to digest, producing extra stomach acid that can end up in the esophagus. Fatty foods may also relax the lower esophageal sphincter , which usually acts as a lid on the stomach. The LES prevents the backflow of acid from the stomach up to the esophagus, explains Elena Ivanina, DO, MPH, a gastroenterologist atLenox Hill Hospital in New York City.Sometimes, though, the LES doesnt do its job as well as it should.

Doctors often counsel lifestyle changesincluding avoiding these triggering foodsto combat reflux symptoms before trying medications. Thats something people can do without needing to spend a lot of money on medicine, says Dr. Schiller, also the program director of the gastroenterology fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine in Dallas.

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What Can Trigger Heartburn

Heartburn can be triggered by many different things that are a part of your daily life. For many people, heartburn can be caused by certain eating and lifestyle habits. These habits can involve things like eating large portions of food, eating too close to bedtime or even having high stress levels.

Certain foods and drinks can also trigger heartburn for some people. Some foods and drinks that could trigger your heartburn can include:

  • Onions.
  • Caffeinated beverages.
  • Carbonated beverages.

Your lifestyle habits can also play a part in why you might experience heartburn. These everyday factors often contribute to medical conditions that cause heartburn, like GERD or hiatal hernia. Some lifestyle habits that can trigger your heartburn include:

  • Being overweight.
  • Having a high stress level.
  • Wearing tight clothes and belts.

This Factsheet Is About Heartburn & Acid Reflux

Heartburn is extremely common, affecting up to 25% of UK adults. It is a chest pain that occurs after eating, lying down or bending over and is most usually described as burning. The pain is located at the lowest end of the breastbone in the centre of the chest with the discomfort often rising upwards and outwards.

Acid reflux is the regurgitation of some stomach contents including gastric acid into the oesophagus and is the major symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Reflux mostly occurs without us being aware that it is happening.

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Is Acid Reflux Disease Ever Treated With Surgery

If medications don’t completely resolve your symptoms of acid reflux disease and the symptoms are severely interfering with your life, your doctor could recommend surgery. There are two types of surgical treatment used to relieve symptoms of GERD if daily use of medication isn’t effective.

The most recently approved procedure involves surgically placing a ring known as a LINX device around the outside of the lower end of the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. The ring consists of magnetic titanium beads held together by titanium wires. The device helps reflux by preventing stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus. In one study, patients were able to stop taking medicine or cut down the amount they took. You shouldn’t get the LINX device if you’re allergic to certain metals, and once you have a LINX device you shouldn’t get any type of MRI test.

Another surgical procedure called a fundoplication can help prevent further acid reflux. It creates an artificial valve using the top of your stomach. The procedure involves wrapping the upper part of the stomach around the LES to strengthen it, prevent acid reflux, and repair a hiatal hernia. Surgeons perform this procedure through either an open incision in the abdomen or chest or with a lighted tube inserted through a tiny incision in the abdomen.

These procedures are done only as a last resort for treating acid reflux disease after medical treatment has proven to be inadequate.

Understanding The Oesophagus And Stomach

What is the Cause of Heartburn &  Acid Reflux?

When we eat, food passes down the gullet into the stomach. Cells in the lining of the stomach make acid and other chemicals which help to digest food. Stomach cells also make mucus which protects them from damage from the acid. The cells lining the oesophagus are different and have little protection from acid.

There is a circular band of muscle at the junction between the oesophagus and stomach. This relaxes to allow food down but then normally tightens up and stops food and acid leaking up into the oesophagus. In effect, the sphincter acts like a valve.

Acid Reflux and Oesophagitis

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Symptoms Of Acid Reflux

People who have chronic acid reflux are often particular about what they eat and drink. Because the improper substance can irritate their stomach and worsen their illness, they should avoid it.

The common symptoms of acid reflux are the following:

  • Chest pain or heartburn
  • Peppermint
  • Any spicy food

Those who suffer from GERD should avoid certain foods or carry drugs such as antacids with them.

How To Banish The Burn

Lifestyle changes can be very effective for those with mild to moderate acid reflux, says Pichetshote. Start with these tweaks and see if they help.

Avoid certain foods. To find what triggers your acid reflux, Mohan recommends keeping a food journal that includes what you eat and any symptoms that flare up afterwards. You may notice fried and fatty foods in particular cause trouble. There are chemical components in these foods that can affect receptors in the lower sphincter muscle, causing it to relax, Mohan says. Whats more, she says, because foods with greater fat content can take longer to digest, they may sit in your stomach longer. And the longer that food stays there, the more likely it is to be refluxed back into your esophagus.

Another potential trigger? Carbonated beverages, which can cause acid reflux by expanding our stomach, Pichetshote says: When we distend our stomach, it can cause a relaxation or lowering of the lower esophageal pressure.

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Learn More About 20 Natural Remedies For Heartburn Reflux And Gerd Here

About the Co-Author

Pallavi Abraham is currently a dietetic intern at the University of Houston. Driven by real life events, she embarked on her journey to become a dietitian after earning a PhD in Biochemistry and gaining extensive experience in cancer research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She is passionate about becoming a clinical dietitian and practicing in the field of integrative and functional nutrition. Pallavi is married with two school going kids and in her free time loves to travel with her family.

Disclaimer: Information on this site is intended only for informational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult with a trusted healthcare provider before implementing significant dietary change. Read additional disclaimer info here.


  • American Collage of Gastroenterology: Acid reflux.
  • Healthline: Emergency Acid Reflux Symptoms.
  • Health: Things That Could Be Giving You Acid Reflux.
  • Dr. Ruscio: Gastroesophageal Reflux with Dr. Ben Weitz.
  • Kresser, C. Is Heartburn Caused by a Leaky Esophagus?
  • Medical News Today: What is Hypochlorhydria?
  • How To Avoid Heartburn

    What Causes Heartburn Acid Reflux

    When it comes to acid reflux, there are certain foods that are almost universally problematic.

    The best strategy is to avoid them entirely. But unfortunately, they often make up over half of many peoples diets.

    In Dropping Acid: The Reflux Diet Cookbook & Cure, authors Jamie Koufman, MD, Jordan Stern, MD, and French master chef Marc Bauer share foods they consider hazardous, based on medical literature and their experience treating thousands of patients.

    Bad news for chocolate lovers: Chocolate seems to cause more reflux than any other food. Its a triple whammy:

  • Chocolate contains caffeine and other stimulants such as theobromine, which cause reflux.
  • Chocolate is high in fat, and fat causes reflux.
  • Chocolate is also high in cocoa, and cocoa causes reflux.
  • Theoretically, dark chocolate isnt as bad as high-fat milk chocolate, but lets face itall chocolate is bad for reflux.

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    Find Out The Differences Between The Two

    Acid Reflux and GERD are tied closely togetherbut most people arent aware of what differentiates them. Here’s an easy way to know the difference: Acid Reflux occurs when the acid in your stomach backs up, or refluxes, into your esophagus, causing heartburn. And Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease is chronic or recurring acid reflux.1

    Many things can cause acid reflux, including foods like coffee and chocolate, being overweight or pregnant, or eating too much or too quickly.

    But what’s actually happening inside you? At the entrance of your stomach is the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle that opens to let food in and closes tight to keep food and acid in the stomach. If this muscle doesn’t close all the way or opens too often, acid can flow back into your esophagus, causing heartburn.

    Causes Of Acid Reflux

    The following are the most common causes of acid reflux. They may weaken the LES or increase sensitivity to acid reflux symptoms by irritating the esophagus and raising stomach acid levels.

    You may find one or more causation to be the blame for your acid reflux.

    1. Heartburn Trigger Foods

    Certain foods and liquids can trigger heartburn in most people. These should be avoided or eaten sparingly. These foods that trigger heartburn include but are not limited to:

    • Alcohol

    The healthier your diet the less risk of heartburn.

    2. Low Dietary Fiber

    Low dietary fiber can lead to constipation which increases abdominal pressure. This pressure can weaken the LES closure.

    3. High Salt Intake

    A high salt intake decreases LES muscle pressure allowing acid to reflux.1 and irritates the esophagus leading to increased pain from heartburn.2

    4. Eating Large Meals

    Eating large meals Increases abdominal pressure leading to added pressure on the LES.

    5. Eating Before Bedtime

    Eating before bedtime can lead to acid reflux. When laying down, stomach contents will place pressure on the LES and leak through into the esophagus.

    6. Hiatal Hernia

    A hiatal hernia is an impairment of body structure where part of the stomach pushes through the opening known as the hiatus where the esophagus passes through the diaphragm. A hiatal hernia effects LES function prohibiting it from closing properly and allowing acid reflux.

    7. Being Overweight

    Three ways being overweight leads to acid reflux:

    8. Being Pregnant

    Read Also: Heartburn Chest And Back Pain

    Treatments And Special Considerations

    Taking digestive enzymes as well as increasing stomach acid with betaine hydrochloric acid tablets found at health food stores may be all that’s needed to relieve acid reflux for some healthy individuals.

    However, special considerations should be taken for those undergoing chemotherapy treatment due to related increased digestive sensitivity.

    Other typical courses of treatment for acid reflux may include OTC or prescription acid-neutralizing or acid-blocking medications. Some common medications for acid reflux include:

    • Antacids like Tums, Rolaids, and Mylanta
    • H2 blockers like Pepcid Complete or Pepcid AC , Tagamet HB , and Axid AR
    • Proton-pump inhibitors like Nexium 24h , Prilosec , Prevacid 24h , and Zegerid

    Acid Reflux Is Often Easily Treated With Diet And Lifestyle Changes

    10 Home Remedies for Acid Reflux and The Problem with PPIs

    While reflux and silent reflux can be seen as an annoyance for many people, it can also cause serious health problems like ulceration, esophageal cancer, hormone imbalance and malabsorption of nutrients. To combat the annoying symptoms of reflux many people take an over the counter medication like Mylanta or are given a proton pump inhibitor prescription from their doctor for Pariet, Losec or Nexium.

    These PPI medications often work in treating the symptoms of reflux but they are not addressing the underlying cause, in fact, they can make the situation worse as you become reliant on these medications when you stop the medications the symptoms become worse.

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    If I Have Heartburn Should I See My Health Care Professional

    That depends. If a person has heartburn more than three times a week for at least two weeks, he or she should see a health care professional. On the other hand, if a person only has occasional bouts of heartburn, he or she may find that taking nonprescription antacids and making some simple changes in lifestyle can resolve the heartburn. If these measures do not help, then a visit to a health care professional is warranted.

    If a person has any of these symptoms, with or without heartburn, call a doctor or go to a hospital emergency department right away:

    • Throwing up blood or passing blood in bowel movements
    • Severe pain, dizziness, or lightheadedness
    • Difficulty swallowing

    With proper understanding of the condition and treatment, relief can be attained.

    When I have chest pain, how can I tell whether it is my heart or just heartburn?

    Sometimes a person can’t tell the difference. Just like chest pain from the heart, heartburn sometimes spreads from the chest to the jaw, shoulders, arms, or back. If a person has chest pain for any reason, seek medical care immediately.


    Here Are Some Other Lifestyle Tips To Reduce Reflux

    • If you are overweight then losing weight can help reduce the pressure on the LES
    • Avoid foods and drinks that irritate the stomach or promote relaxation of the LES. These include alcohol, carbonated or caffeinated drinks, chocolate, citrus, milk, peppers, and tomatoes.
    • Quit smoking. Smoking weakens the LES and reduces saliva production.
    • Eat meals earlier in the night, or just have a simple soup if you have to eat late.
    • Try intermittent fasting to give your digestion a chance to fully digest your food before eating the next meal
    • Drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, blood pressure medications, steroids, and anti-biotic drugs can all contribute to reflux.

    Read Also: Heartburn And Indigestion After Eating

    Avoid Spicy Foods And Keep Some Dazzle In Your Diet With Low

    Image: bhofack2/Thinkstock

    The fiery feeling of heartburn is the last way you want to remember a great meal. But when your doctor says you have chronic heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease , you may worry that a bland and disappointing menu is in your future. “That may not be true,” says Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “The foods that trigger heartburn are different for everyone.” He suggests keeping a journal to determine which foods cause symptoms.

    Common culprits

    Some foods and ingredients may intensify heartburn, such as spicy foods, citrus, tomato sauces, and vinegar.

    Fatty and fried foods linger longer in the stomach. That may increase stomach pressure and force open the muscles that keep stomach acid out of the esophagus.

    Other common heartburn triggers include chocolate, caffeine, onions, peppermint, carbonated drinks, and alcohol.

    Is It Heartburn Or A Heart Attack

    What causes heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD?

    Chest pain is a very common reason for people to go to the hospital emergency department. While many of these people are suffering from a heart attack, some are experiencing severe heartburn. A heart attack can feel like bad indigestion.

    Its so difficult to tell these 2 apart that sophisticated medical testing is needed to determine if they are in fact having a heart attack.

    If you have any chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes or any heart attack warning signs such as shortness of breath or pain in your jaw or arm, its important to seek immediate medical attention by calling triple zero .

    If you have any doubt about whether your symptoms are heartburn or a heart attack, then also seek immediate medical attention by calling triple zero . Remember its always OK to call triple zero , even if its a false alarm.

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    Smoking Can Make Acid Reflux Even Worse

    The quality of life for individuals who suffer from acid reflux has been worsened by smoking. As a smoker, there is a high probability that one will develop acid reflux and the symptom becomes worse if they continue to smoke because it irritates the esophagus and worsens the symptoms. Acid reflux disease affects about 60% of Americans over age 40, with only about 25% diagnosed with this condition.

    Stop smoking. Smoking can cause the muscles that control the esophageal sphincter between the stomach and esophagus to relax. When this happens, stomach acid can escape from the stomach and into your esophagus, causing that familiar burning sensation. If you are a smoker and frequently get bouts of heartburn, it may be time to quit or at least reduce your habit.

    Smoking can exacerbate acid reflux because it constricts the sphincter of the esophagus which leads to an increase in acid. The smoke irritates the lining of the stomach and esophagus and makes them more susceptible to damage from stomach acids. Smoking also constricts your blood vessels and this can lead to excessive stress levels. Stress is another thing that can make matters worse for indigestion.

    What Is Heartburn What Is Acid Reflux

    Heartburn is the burning warm sensation under the breastbone. Its the warm or sour feeling people experience at the top part of the stomach, typically after eating.

    Acid reflux is when the content of the stomach exits the stomach, splashes up into the esophagus, and causes the heartburn, pain, and irritation in the upper stomach and chest area. Sometimes, acid reflux can cause sour taste in the mouth and burping. Acid reflux can also cause constant coughing, a feeling that you cant swallow, lump in your throat, and hoarse voice. It can even lead to asthma and pneumonia. Some people experience these symptoms without the heartburn, and this is called silent acid reflux.

    GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. When acid reflux happens too often, a diagnosis, or a medical term, is given to the symptoms. People get diagnosed with GERD if they have mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week, or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week.

    LPR stands for Laryngopharyngeal reflux. Its sometimes called silent acid reflux if the person doesnt experience heartburn. This can cause serious long-term damage because people dont even realize that its an acid reflux problem. They may not think seek treatment, and the long-term damage can cause to abnormalities in the lining of the esophagus which can lead to esophageal cancer

    Read Also: Does Milk Get Rid Of Heartburn


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