Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux that may feel like a burning sensation in the throat and chest. Some people may experience heartburn and other symptoms of acid reflux after eating anything.

Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux, occurs when stomach acid flows up the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Acid in the esophagus may cause a burning sensation in the chest and throat, or heartburn.

People who experience heartburn regularly may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn can affect anyone occasionally and may result from eating a large meal or lying down after eating. However, GERD is a chronic condition that may regularly cause heartburn, without always having a clear trigger.

GERD is a common condition that can affect anyone. An older 2014 review of 16 studies suggested that between around 18 and 28% of Americans have GERD. Some factors may make it more likely for someone to develop the condition, such as:

Anyone experiencing heartburn after every meal may have GERD. This article discusses the causes of the condition and heartburn, the link between eating habits and heartburn, treatments for heartburn and GERD, and when to consult a doctor.

People may develop GERD if their lower esophageal sphincter weakens or relaxes at the wrong time.

The lower esophageal sphincter is a group of muscles at the bottom of the esophagus that prevents contents from the stomach from moving back into the esophagus. When the sphincter weakens or relaxes, stomach acid can move up the esophagus and cause symptoms such as heartburn.

Some people are more likely to experience GERD, including those who are pregnant. A person can help reduce their risk of the condition by maintaining a moderate weight or refraining from smoking, if applicable.

Individuals who take certain medications, such as calcium channel blockers or benzodiazepines, may also develop GERD or experience more severe GERD symptoms. Therefore, a person should speak with their doctor about the potential side effects before taking any medications and report any side effects they notice after they start taking medications.

A person’s eating habits may affect their likelihood of experiencing heartburn.

Some eating habits could trigger heartburn in some people. For example, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and the American College of Gastroenterology list several types of foods and beverages that may trigger GERD or irritate the lining of the esophagus:

Specific eating patterns that may increase someone’s risk of developing GERD include:

  • eating large meals
  • eating meals less than 3 hours before going to bed
  • not eating meals around the same time each day

Learn more about foods to eat and foods to avoid with GERD and acid reflux.

Many people will experience heartburn occasionally, and it does not always require treatment. However, heartburn may feel uncomfortable, and some may wish to try medications that help alleviate it.

For example, antacids are a typical heartburn treatment that helps neutralize stomach acid and provide relief from symptoms.

Antacids may alleviate heartburn, but people with GERD typically experience heartburn regularly and may require other treatments. The NIDDK recommends several lifestyle changes that may help, including:

People should speak with a healthcare professional before making any changes to their diet. While salty, fatty, and spicy foods may trigger heartburn, experts indicate that it is unclear whether eliminating these foods from the diet will treat GERD.

Doctors may also recommend additional medications to antacids for those with GERD. For example, H2 blockers reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, while proton pump inhibitors have a similar but stronger effect.

In severe cases, doctors may recommend that someone with GERD has surgery, such as fundoplication. This is a surgical procedure that helps prevent the stomach contents from flowing back up the food pipe.

Anyone may experience heartburn from time to time. Occasional heartburn may not cause harm and resolve itself or go away with over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

However, people who experience heartburn regularly may have GERD. This condition causes chronic heartburn that can be uncomfortable and may lead to complications, such as esophagitis.

Anyone with regular heartburn can speak with a doctor who can identify its cause and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid travels up into the esophagus. People who experience heartburn regularly may have GERD, a chronic condition.

Some eating habits may increase the risk of heartburn and GERD, such as eating high fat foods or having an irregular meal pattern. However, some people can help reduce their risk of developing GERD by maintaining a moderate weight and avoiding smoking.

Some individuals may find heartburn goes away after taking OTC medications. However, GERD may require other treatments, including lifestyle changes and surgery. A person can speak with a healthcare professional to find out which treatments may work best for them.