Heartburn is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and often quite painful. Unfortunately, it’s also very common. In fact, more than 60 million Americans report experiencing heartburn at least once a month. Certain medicine, foods, and lifestyle factors can cause heartburn. Therefore, the first line of defense for treating heartburn involves lifestyle changes and home remedies. If symptoms do not improve after making these changes, then prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication are the next step.
Here, learn 12 home remedies for heartburn, what to do when they don’t work, and when to contact your healthcare provider for help.
12 home remedies for heartburn
Heartburn is a painful burning feeling in your chest and throat that happens when stomach acid or other contents from your stomach back up in your esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. It is thought that the lower esophageal sphincter, which is located between your stomach and esophagus, may be weak or relax at inappropriate times, allowing acid reflux and heartburn to occur.
Occasional heartburn is relatively common. But if you’re experiencing frequent or severe heartburn, a higher frequency of regurgitation, and a feeling that this condition is having a big effect on your everyday life, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD happens when a muscle at the end of your esophagus does not close properly, which allows the stomach contents to leak back (or reflux) into the esophagus and irritate it, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK). If this is the case, you may need over-the-counter or prescription medication in addition to trying some of the natural remedies listed below. These home remedies may help reduce heartburn or prevent it from happening in the first place.
1. Reduce trigger foods
Reducing trigger foods in your diet can prevent and help get rid of heartburn. These include acidic foods, spicy foods, and greasy foods. Focus on reducing these types of foods in addition to onions, garlic, chocolate, alcohol, and caffeine. “Caffeine acts and relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve between the esophagus and the stomach) and effectively increases acid reflux,” says Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
2. Add aloe vera to your routine
Dr. Mehdizadeh says taking aloe vera extract three times a day may act as an anti-inflammatory and acid suppressor. In addition, results from a small study found that aloe vera is safe, well tolerated, and effective at reducing the frequency of heartburn. You can find aloe juice at most grocery stores. Try using one tablespoon of aloe vera mixed with water or juice.
3. Avoid tight clothing
The Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding tight clothing and tight belts if you experience frequent heartburn and bloating. Anything that squeezes the belly area can push acid up into the esophagus, causing a painful burning sensation.
4. Check your sleep position
Dr. Mehdizadeh recommends using a wedge pillow when you sleep because it helps to maintain an elevated sleeping position. You can also try sleeping on your left side. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this position is more likely to keep stomach contents where they belong, rather than passing up through the lower esophageal sphincter into the esophagus, which reduces the chances of developing heartburn symptoms. Elevating the head of your bed is another trick to keep heartburn away. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by using risers or wood blocks under the head post, so the entire head of the bed is at an angle.
5. Avoid lying down after eating
It might be tempting to kick your feet up right after a meal, but Dr. Mehdizadeh says it’s important to avoid lying down within two to three hours after eating. Therefore, plan accordingly and aim to get your last meal in a couple of hours before your normal bedtime.
6. Eat smaller meals, slower
Be mindful of how much and how fast you’re eating at mealtime. “Too much food in your stomach can put pressure on the valve that keeps stomach acid from coming up your esophagus, thus making heartburn more likely,” says Janice Johnston, MD, the chief medical officer and co-founder of Redirect Health. Also, eating too fast can trigger heartburn, so Dr. Johnston says chewing slowly or taking smaller bites can help slow down the process.
7. Sip on water and baking soda
“Utilizing a small amount of baking soda mixed with water could lower your stomach’s acidity levels similar to an over-the-counter antacid due to the same active ingredients, sodium bicarbonate,” Dr. Johnston says. This is one of the best at-home remedies to provide occasional, temporary relief from acid reflux.
8. Try a ripe banana
Next time you experience heartburn, Dr. Johnston says to eat a ripe banana. “The high potassium content makes bananas an alkaline food that can help counteract stomach acid in your esophagus,” she says. But make sure it is ripe. Dr. Johnston says an unripe banana will be less alkaline and, therefore, be less helpful.
9. Chew gum
Dr. Johnston says you can also try popping in a piece of sugar-free gum when you feel heartburn coming on. “Chewing gum increases saliva production, which will help you swallow more, helping dilute and clear acid reflux or lessening the chances of the acid coming up your throat,” she says. Saliva also contains bicarbonate, which can buffer stomach acid.
10. Drink alkaline water
Alkaline water buffers acid contents in the stomach, according to Dr. Mehdizadeh, so it may help reduce heartburn. Research found that consuming pH 8.8 alkaline water may have therapeutic health benefits for people with reflux disease.
11. Maintain a healthy weight
If you have excess weight, especially around your belly, you may experience an increase in pressure that could push acid up into your esophagus, according to the Mayo Clinic. As is the case with so many ailments and health conditions, Dr. Mehdizadeh says weight loss is a critical component to helping alleviate episodes of heartburn. Sometimes, just a few pounds can make a significant difference.
12. Experiment with herbal remedies
Herbal remedies may help ease heartburn side effects for some people. Some specific ones to try include licorice, chamomile, and ginger tea, according to Harvard Health.
Natural remedies for heartburn that may not work
Some natural remedies touted for heartburn don’t always work and can even cause symptoms to worsen. For example, one commonly recommended heartburn remedy is apple cider vinegar. Dr. Mehdizadeh says it is a weak acid and can make GERD worse. Plus, there are not enough studies to demonstrate its efficacy.
Another old wives’ tale is to drink milk if your food is spicy or if your stomach is upset. While this may serve as a temporary treatment, Dr. Johnston says dairy can stimulate acid production in the stomach, which results in more heartburn.
Pineapple juice is another home remedy for natural heartburn relief that you may hear about when searching for ways to alleviate symptoms. Although it’s tasty and can also aid in reducing acid in your stomach, Dr. Johnston says to be careful not to drink too much. Large amounts of pineapple juice can have a negative effect and cause more acid reflux symptoms, diarrhea, or nausea. Therefore, it is best to use it in small quantities.
If you’re experiencing heartburn and not sure what remedy to use, it’s always best to call your healthcare provider or a pharmacist before trying something new.
How to treat heartburn when natural remedies don’t work
You may need to take a different approach for heartburn relief if natural remedies aren’t helping with chest pain, frequent heartburn, and indigestion. The good news is that several over-the-counter and prescription medications are available in the event that home remedies don’t work. If you’re pregnant, make sure to talk with your doctor before taking any medicine for heartburn. They can recommend an antacid that is safe during pregnancy.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has identified three classes of medications for the treatment of heartburn, including antacids, proton pump inhibitors, and H2-receptor antagonists.
Antacids help to treat mild heartburn (indigestion) by buffering the stomach acid that causes heartburn. You can take antacids as needed when you experience heartburn or about one hour after eating.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
OTC proton pump inhibitors are the most potent medicine to treat frequent heartburn. They work by reducing the amount of acid production in the stomach. Both OTC and prescription proton pump inhibitors treat conditions like GERD, stomach and small intestine ulcers, and inflammation of the esophagus.
H2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs)
H2-blockers also work by reducing the amount of stomach acid secreted by glands in the lining of your stomach. They are most often taken by mouth and with the first meal of the day. If you’re wondering how to get rid of heartburn fast at home, these medications take 30 to 90 minutes to work, but the benefits last several hours.
If over-the-counter or prescription drugs do not work, your provider may talk with you about surgery to repair the lower esophageal sphincter.
When to see a doctor for heartburn
Sometimes heartburn can be a side effect of a bigger problem, and it is important to speak with a healthcare provider to get in front of any potential health issues. One thing to be on the lookout for, says Dr. Johnston, is if you take an over-the-counter medication for your heartburn and symptoms still persist or don’t get better. “If your heartburn becomes more common, such as experiencing it several times a week, or becoming more severe, it is a good indicator to speak with a professional,” she adds.
Also, taking any home, natural, or over-the-counter remedy or medication could mask certain underlying conditions, such as an ulcer, so it’s important to communicate what medications and remedies you’re using at home with your healthcare provider.
In general, if you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, Dr. Mehdizadeh says you should contact your doctor right away.
- Difficulty swallowing
- Painful swallowing
- Blood in the saliva
- Black or red stool
- Unintentional weight loss
- Chronic cough that does not go away
- Chronic lump in the throat sensation
- Persistent heartburn that does not go away despite medication
These symptoms could be signs of a more dangerous health issue.
By: Sara Lindberg