8 Simple Tips to Ease Your Heartburn

Take Back Some Control Over Your Esophageal Health

Heartburn, also known as gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), can be a debilitating disease. Not only is heartburn uncomfortable, if not painful at times, but it can negatively impact your sleep, and your ability to function on a daily basis, whether that's at work or at home. 

That said, it's important to know that you do have some control over your disease.

In addition to following the advice of your doctor (whether that's losing weight or taking medication) here are eight simple strategies you can do on your own—a proactive way of taking some control back within the comforts of your own daily life. 

1
Avoid Overeating

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). The increased pressure can open the LES, allowing stomach acid to reflux back into the esophagus, which causes that dreaded burning sensation.

Try eating six smaller meals each day, instead of three larger ones, to prevent your stomach from expanding. 

 

2
Avoid Foods That Trigger Your Heartburn

While there is not a lot of scientific evidence to back up the claim that certain foods trigger heartburn, it makes sense to avoid (or limit) the ones that seem uniquely tied to your symptoms.

Foods and beverages that may trigger or irritate your heartburn, include: 

  • Fried (greasy) foods or spicy foods
  • High-fat meats
  • Creamy sauces
  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Caffeinated beverages (for example, soft drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa)
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Citrus fruit and juices (for example, orange, grapefruit)
  • Tomato-based products

In the end, if you are not sure what foods or beverages are potentially triggering your heartburn, try keeping a journal for a week to help you detect your heartburn-triggering culprits. 

3
Avoid Eating Right Before Bedtime

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

This is why it's best to wait at least two to three hours after eating before going to bed. In other words, avoid those yummy late-night snacks. 

As an aside, it's interesting to note that the speed of food intake (for example, eating rapidly) does not seem to have an effect on heartburn, just the timing.

4
Elevate the Head of Your Bed

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 by placing bricks, blocks or anything that's sturdy and secure under the bedposts. Aim for raising the head of your bed by six to eight inches. This strategy is probably most useful for people who experience heartburn when they sleep (called nocturnal heartburn).

5
Stop Smoking

Smoking is linked to a variety of health problems, and one of them is heartburn. In fact, smoking impacts heartburn through a few different mechanisms. 

Smoking Reduces Saliva Production
Your saliva is naturally alkaline, so it can help neutralize stomach acid. Saliva can also ease heartburn by bathing the esophagus and washing acid back down to the stomach. 

Smoking Increases Reflux Events
Research reveals that smoking increases heartburn flares through an abrupt increase in intra-abdominal pressure during coughing or taking a deep breath.  

Smoking Impairs the Functioning of the LES
Smoking can weaken and relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the 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.

If you think you are ready to stop smoking, speak with your doctor. There are a number of strategies you can try, and often a combination of counseling and quit aids (for example, nicotine replacement therapy) are recommended.

Lastly, it's best to avoid secondhand smoking when managing your heartburn and overall health. 

6
Moderate Your Alcohol Intake

Alcohol increases the amount of acid the stomach produces and also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

While avoiding alcohol altogether is one strategy, if you (under the guidance of your doctor) opt for alcohol moderation, consider these 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
  • Keep track of which alcoholic drinks aggravate your heartburn and avoid them as much as possible

7
Avoid Tight Clothing

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.

Therefore, it's best to wear loose-fitted clothing, especially pants and shirts that fit comfortably around your abdomen. 

8
Manage Your Stress Well

 Stress hasn't been shown to actually cause heartburn. It can, however, lead to behaviors like drinking alcohol, smoking, or eating unhealthily, which can trigger heartburn. 

Since your stress may indirectly lead to heartburn, it's important to find ways to manage your stress well. A few ways to relax your mind and ease your stress include engaging in regular exercise,  mindful meditation, and/or healthy sleep habits.

A Word From Verywell

Living with heartburn can be a struggle, but you can take an active role in managing it by adopting healthy lifestyle habits and maintaining a normal weight.

That said, be sure to talk with a gastroenterologist if your symptoms persist or worsen. Chronic, uncontrolled heartburn can lead to  complications like esophageal inflammation, bleeding ulcers, scarring, and even cancer.

Sources:

B or S, Erdogan A, Bayracki B, Yildrim E, Vardar R. The impact of the speed of food intake on gastroesophageal reflux events in obese female patients. Dis Esophagus. 2017 Jan 1;30(1):1-6.

Katz PO, Gerson LB, Vela MF. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013 Mar;108(3):308-28.

Kohata Y et al. Long-term benefits of smoking cessation on gastroesophageal reflux disease and health-related quality of life. PLoS One. 2016 Feb 4;11(2):e0147860.

National Institue of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2014). Treatment for GER and GERD: How do you control GER and GERD?