10 Ways to Stop Heartburn

These changes can help stop serious heartburn

When you suffer from chronic heartburn, this condition can affect your entire life. Heartburn may interfere with your sleep, and it may even interfere with your availability to work productively. When it is especially bad, it has been mistaken for heart attacks, so it can even feel like you could die from heartburn!

Whether you were diagnosed with GERD, a hiatal hernia, a peptic ulcer, or some other condition that may cause the heartburn, you have a lot working against you. You don't want your lifestyle or dietary habits adding to this, and it may be necessary to stop eating some of your favorite foods.

Even when you and doctor decide on for your GERD treatment, hiatal hernia treatment, or peptic ulcer treatment, it's also important to know what NOT to do as it is to know what to do. The following are 10 things you may be doing and should stop if you don't want to suffer from bouts of heartburn.

Don't Overeat

Eating small portions can help with heartburn.
Eating small portions can help with heartburn. Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Large meals expand your stomach and increase upward pressure against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES is the valve between your esophagus and your stomach). This can lead to heartburn.

Try these tips:

  • Eat six smaller meals each day instead of three larger ones. This will help keep the stomach from becoming too full, and it will also help prevent excessive production of stomach acid.
  • Three smaller meals and three snacks can also help.

Don't Eat Too Quickly

When we eat too fast, it is harder for your digestive system to perform the way it should, resulting in poor digestion that increases your chances of experiencing heartburn.

Some ways to help you slow down while eating:

  • Put your fork or spoon down between bites.
  • Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing.
  • Chew 20 times or count to 20 before the next bite.
  • Take smaller bites.

Don't Eat Foods That Trigger Your Heartburn

There are a couple reasons why some foods cause heartburn:

  1. Some foods cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax when it shouldn't.
  2. Some foods cause the stomach overproduce acid.

When the LES is the culprit, food and stomach acid come back up into your esophagus. Some of the foods that can relax the LES include:

  • Fried (greasy) foods
  • High-fat meats
  • Creamy sauces
  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Caffeinated beverages (e.g., soft drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa)

Foods that may stimulate acid production and increase heartburn include:

  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruit and juices (e.g., orange, grapefruit)
  • Tomato-based products

Don't Be Unprepared When Eating Out

Knowing what is safe for you to eat and what you need to avoid is as important for eating out in restaurants as it is for eating at home.

Asking how food is prepared, avoiding certain beverages, and watching portion sizes go a long way toward preventing heartburn.

Good choices to avoid heartburn when in a restaurant:

  • White meat
  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Sandwiches with turkey, chicken, or roast beef on whole grain bread
  • Grilled foods
  • Broth-based soups
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Baked potatoes topped with low-fat salad dressing
  • Low-fat or no-fat salad dressings
  • Lighter desserts, such as angel food cake

Dining at Chinese, Mexican, or Italian restaurants may be more difficult, since food at these eateries may contain more ingredients that can trigger your heartburn. You can enjoy dining at these places if you know what to avoid. This information and more is included in this article on eating out without heartburn.

Don't Go to Bed Soon after Eating

Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the chances of refluxed food.

Try these tips:

  • Wait at least two to three hours after eating to go to bed.
  • Avoid late night snacking.
  • If one of your meals ends up being larger than the others, aim to eat that meal for lunch instead of dinner.

Don't Lie Flat When You Sleep

Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the LES. With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure.

You can elevate your head in a couple of ways:

  • Place bricks, blocks or anything that's sturdy and secure under the legs at the head of your bed
  • Use wedge-shaped pillow under your head and shoulders.

Don't Smoke

If you smoke, you should consider quitting. Smoking can cause many health problems, and heartburn is one of them. This is especially true of those persons with GERD.

Some of the ways smoking can increase the odds of suffering from heartburn include:

  • Reduces Saliva Production
    Smoking reduces saliva production. Saliva is alkaline, so it can help neutralize stomach acid. It can also relieve heartburn by bathing the esophagus and lessening the effects of acid refluxed into the esophagus by washing it back down to the stomach.
  • Increases Stomach Acid
    Smoking can increase the production of stomach acid. It may also promote the movement of bile salts from the intestine to the stomach, which makes the stomach acids more harmful.
  • Impairs the Functioning of the Lower Esophageal Sphincter
    Smoking can weaken and relax the LES, which is a valve at the junction between esophagus and stomach. If the LES isn't working properly or relaxes inappropriately, stomach contents can reflux back up into the esophagus.
  • Damages the Esophagus
    Smoking may directly injure the esophagus, making it even more susceptible to further damage from acid reflux.

Don't Drink Too Much Alcohol

Alcohol increases the amount of acid the stomach produces, and relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). If you do want to have some alcohol during your festivities, try the following tips:

  • Dilute alcoholic beverages with water or club soda.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to one or two mixed drinks, no more than 16 ounces of wine, or and no more than three beers.
  • Drink white wine instead of red wine.
  • Choose non-alcoholic beer or wine.
  • Keep track of which alcoholic drinks aggravate your heartburn and avoid them as much as possible.

Don't Wear Clothes That Are Too Tight

Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen, such as tight belts and waistbands, can squeeze the stomach, and force food up against the LES. This can cause stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus.

Don't Get Too Stressed

Stress hasn't been shown to actually cause heartburn. It can, however, lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn. During stressful times, routines are disrupted and you may not follow your normal routines in regards to meals, exercise and medication.

Since your stress may indirectly lead to heartburn, it is important to find ways to alleviate the stress, and thus make stress-related heartburn less likely. You can try these relaxation tips.


Rinzler, Carol Ann; DeVault, Ken, Heartburn & Reflux For Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2004. 163-176. Print.

Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). NIH Publication No. 03–0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

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