The Most Frequent Causes of Heartburn

10 Things That May be Triggering Your Heartburn

Too Much Chili Pepper
sdominick / Getty Images

Do you have some idea of what may be causing your heartburn? While we can often pinpoint a few things, some foods trigger heartburn more than others. It may even surprise you to know that your clothing and sleep habits may make a difference as well.

By discovering what the most frequent causes of heartburn are, you can try to make changes in your lifestyle and diet.

A few small adjustments can help reduce or even prevent acid reflux from happening, which is great news if you're seeking relief.

What Is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning feeling in your chest, just behind your breastbone. The pain is often worse when lying down or bending over. The burn usually occurs after eating and many people experience it at night.

Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm. Most people can manage this discomfort on their own with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications.

Heartburn that is more frequent or interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of a more serious condition that requires medical care. Be sure to speak with your doctor if this is a concern.

Top 10 Causes of Heartburn

Among all the potential causes of heartburn, a few stand out on the list. Examine how each of these plays a role in your life and whether they're actually triggering your heartburn symptoms.

If needed, try to eliminate them one at a time for a week or so and see how you feel.

  1. Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks - Caffeine can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.
  2. Chocolate - Chocolate contains concentrations of theobromine, a compound that occurs naturally in many plants such as cocoa, tea, and coffee plants. This relaxes the esophageal sphincter muscle, letting stomach acid squirt up into the esophagus.
  1. Fried and fatty foods - These foods tend to slow down digestion and keep food in your stomach longer. This can result in increased pressure in the stomach, which in turn puts more pressure on a weakened LES. All of this allows reflux of what's in your stomach.
  2. Tomatoes and tomato-based products - Any foods that contain tomatoes relax the LES as well.
  3. Alcohol - Alcohol relaxes the LES, allowing the reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus. It also increases the production of stomach acid, so it's a double whammy on the heartburn front.
  4. Tobacco - The chemicals in cigarette smoke weaken the LES as they pass from the lungs into the blood.
  5. Large meals - A full stomach can put extra pressure on the LES, which will increase the chance that some of this food will reflux into the esophagus.
  6. Citrus fruits and juices - Oranges, lemons, limes, and other citrus fruits also relax the LES.
  7. Eating 2 to 3 hours prior to bedtime - Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the LES. This increases the chances of refluxed food.
  8. Wearing tight fitting clothing -  Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen will squeeze the stomach. This forces food up against the LES and causes it to reflux into the esophagus. Tight-fitting belts and slenderizing undergarments are two common culprits.

    When to See a Doctor

    Seek immediate help if you experience severe chest pain or pressure, especially when combined with other signs and symptoms such as pain in the arm or jaw or difficulty breathing.

    Make an appointment with your doctor if:

    • Heartburn occurs more than twice a week.
    • Symptoms persist despite use of over-the-counter medications.
    • You have difficulty swallowing.
    • You have persistent nausea or vomiting.
    • You have weight loss because of a poor appetite or difficulty eating.