How do you know when heartburn is serious?

Heartburn is a common symptom, but when should you worry about it?

Heartburn can affect many people for different reasons. It’s usually a result of acid reflux, but not always. We explain what heartburn is and how to treat it.  

In this blog, we discuss: 

What are heartburn and acid reflux?

Heartburn is the medical description for the burning feeling in your chest caused by acid reflux (stomach acid travelling up towards the throat) [1].  

Acid reflux is well-known in babies and young children. If you’ve ever had to take an antacid after a takeaway, you’ll understand the symptoms of acid reflux.  

Symptoms of acid reflux include [1]: 

  • Heartburn  
  • An unpleasant sour taste in your mouth (caused by stomach acid) 
  • A cough or hiccups  
  • A hoarse voice 
  • Bad breath  
  • Bloating  
  • Nausea 

These symptoms can be made worse after eating, when lying down, or when bending over.  

So, what can you do about heartburn and acid reflux? First things first, it’s best to try and figure out the cause. 

What causes heartburn and acid reflux?

In most cases, heartburn and acid reflux will be caused by food that has aggravated your digestive system, such as foods high in acid or fat [2].  

Food and drinks that aggravate heartburn and acid reflux include [3]: 

  • Fatty foods 
  • Tomatoes and citrus 
  • Chocolate 
  • Spicy foods 
  • Fizzy drinks 
  • Alcohol 
  • Tea and coffee 

However, other things can cause or heighten heartburn and acid reflux. 

Factors that can cause or heighten heartburn and acid reflux:  

  • Being overweight 
  • Smoking 
  • Pregnancy  
  • Stress and anxiety  
  • An increase in certain hormones (such as progesterone and oestrogen) 
  • Medicines (such as ibuprofen) 
  • A hiatus hernia (when part of your stomach moves up into your chest) 

How to treat heartburn and acid reflux at home

In most cases, acid reflux and heartburn can be treated with simple lifestyle changes.  

Lifestyle changes to treat acid reflux include: 

  • Eating little and often 
  • Avoiding trigger foods 
  • Sitting upright when eating and for a little while after 
  • Maintaining a healthy BMI 

If you are concerned about how your diet is impacting your health or would like to monitor the impact that healthy changes are having on your lifestyle risk factors, our home Health and Lifestyle Blood Test could be for you. This simple finger-prick test checks your liver and kidney function, heart health, and key nutrients.  

Occasionally, you could use over-the-counter antacids. However, in some cases, this may not be enough, and you may need a regularly prescribed medication known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs work to reduce the amount of acid that your stomach makes.  

PPIs include: 

PPIs can only be prescribed to you by a medical professional. Seek advice from your GP if you experience heartburn for longer than three weeks or if your symptoms affect your day-to-day life. 

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Should I ever worry about heartburn?

Heartburn is a very common symptom that will most likely affect everyone in their life at some point. It is mainly down to acid reflux, but persistent heartburn could be a result of something else.  

Sometimes persistent heartburn can be caused by bacteria that can live unnoticed in our stomachs known as Helicobacter (H. pylori). Other causes of heartburn can include ulcers and even cancers, however, these are rare.  

If you are concerned that those normal remedies aren’t working, or if heartburn is accompanied by difficulty swallowing or weight loss, speak to your GP so that they can investigate the cause. 


  1. 2022. Heartburn and acid reflux. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 25 August 2022]. 
  2. 2022. What Causes Heartburn (Acid Reflux)? | Cedars-Sinai. [online] Available at: <,sedatives%20and%20blood%20pressure%20medications.> [Accessed 25 August 2022]. 
  3. 2022. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 25 August 2022]. 


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