What is heartburn?

Heartburn is caused by stomach acid rising up into the food pipe (oesophagus), touching its unprotected lining, resulting in pain and discomfort.

What are the symptoms of heartburn?

Everyone experiences it differently but the most common symptom is burning pain and discomfort just under the breastbone.  Some people experience an unpleasant taste or fluid at the back of the throat.  Other symptoms can include bad breath and chest pain that can disturb or prevent sleep.

What is frequent heartburn?

Frequent heartburn is heartburn that occurs twice a week or more. It can have a significant impact on quality of life with many sufferers experiencing:

–          A need to limit certain food and drink choices

–          3 out of 4 frequent heartburn sufferers experience interference with their sleep

–          Tiredness during the day

–          Anxiety over the frequent pain of heartburn

–          General feeling of being unwell or under the weather

One in three adults experience heartburn and 1 in 6 experience frequent heartburn (occurring twice a week or more).

What causes heartburn?

There are a wide range of triggers and they are different for everyone.  Common causes can include:

  • Food – certain foods can cause heartburn, with spicy, acidic, rich and fatty foods being typical culprits. Sometimes eating a large meal – or eating late at night – can bring on heartburn or make it worse
  • Drink – fizzy drinks, coffee and alcohol can trigger heartburn
  • Tobacco – smoking cigarettes weakens the valve between the stomach and oesophagus, causing acid to leak upwards and resulting in the production of more acid5
  • Being overweight – carrying extra weight can put pressure on the oesophageal valve and on the stomach, allowing acid to rise up into the oesophagus1
  • Stress – anxiety and stress put extra strain on the body making it more susceptible to heartburn

How can heartburn be avoided?

Helen Boardman, a Pharmacist and lecturer in Pharmacy Practice at Nottingham University, provides ten simple steps that can be taken to reduce the pain and discomfort of heartburn.

1.       Steer clear of heartburn triggers

Triggers vary from person to person but common triggers include citrus drinks, high-fat foods, onions and chocolate. Cutting down on alcohol, coffee and fizzy drinks can also help.

2.       Wait for two to three hours after you eat before going to bed / lying down

This gives your stomach a chance to process your meal and move it through your digestive system. Your stomach will then be empty and less likely to reflux when you lie down. Eating a smaller and lighter dinner is also a good idea.

3.       Slow down at mealtimes

Eating too much, too quickly, can increase heartburn so take your time eating and enjoy mealtimes.  Feeling stressed or rushed when you eat can also cause the stomach to produce more stomach acids.

4.       Know your triggers

Using a diary to keep track of when heartburn hits can help you understand what is aggravating your heartburn symptoms.

 5.       Quit smoking

Cigarettes can make heartburn even more painful. Not only can cigarette smoke irritate your throat, it also relaxes the oesophageal muscles that keep stomach acid where it belongs.

 6.       Get moving

Taking regular exercise can often help (although certain abdominal exercises like stomach crunches can push acid out of the stomach, causing heartburn). It’s best to wait at least two hours after a meal before exercising.

7.       Control your portions

Eating too much can aggravate heartburn so opt for smaller portions where possible.

8.       Watch your weight

If you’re overweight, losing excess pounds can help relieve your symptoms.

9.       Sleep with your upper body elevated

Lying down can enable the entry of acid into the oesophagus so many people find their heartburn is worse at night.  Try raising the head of your bed approximately 15 cm (6 inches) with some books or blocks. You can also try a wedge pillow.

10.   Try a PPI medicine

There are a broad range of OTC treatment options available. Antacids and alginates offer temporary relief from symptoms.  If you are a frequent heartburn sufferer and want more sustained relief, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) may help. It targets heartburn at its source by blocking acid production in the stomach and so can provide relief of symptoms through the day and night.

Fast facts

  • 1 in 6 people experience frequent heartburn (twice a week or more)4
  • Frequent heartburn affects men and women equally.1
  • Heartburn can be a debilitating condition having a significant impact on a person’s quality of life, limiting a person’s food and drink choices and causing disruption to sleep, anxiety over the frequent pain of heartburn and a general feeling of being unwell.
  • With just one Nexium Control® a day, 8 out of 10 frequent sufferers experienced meaningful improvement in their heartburn symptoms within one week and 4 out of 5 nights were heartburn free,

Nexium Control® is available in our pharmacy in a packs of 14 at €14.00.If symptoms persist or worsen after 14-days treatment, people should see a GP for further advice.

Nexium Control® 20mg Nexium gastro-resistant tablets for the short-term treatment of reflux symptoms (e.g. heartburn and acid regurgitation) in adults. Active ingredient: Esomeprazole. Always read the leaflet.


Information taken from –


[i] NHS Choices. Symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Introduction. Accessed February 2015

[ii] Fennerty MB, Finke KB, Kushner PR, et al. Short- and long-term management of heartburn and other acid-related disorders: development of an algorithm for primary care providers. J Fam Pract. 2009;58(7 suppl):S1-S12.

[iii] Farup C at al. Arch Intern Med. 2001; 161:45-52.

[iv] Data on file. Forbes Consulting Group Usage and Attitude Study 2013.

[v] Naliboff et al. Psychosom Med. 2004 May-Jun;66(3):426-34

[vi] Nexium Control Summary of Product Characteristics