Heartburn occurs when acids and other fluids that digest food leak up from the stomach into the oesophagus.

Normally, the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) acts as a one-way valve that stops stomach contents from moving upwards. However, when it doesn’t work properly then that’s when you feel the full force of heartburn.

So what causes heartburn? Well, some foods and drinks can stimulate acid production and/or relax the LOS. These include spicy foods, fatty foods, alcohol, tomatoes, citrus fruits, caffeinated beverages, chocolate and carbonated beverages.

And we all know that smoking is bad for us, but did you know that cigarettes contain toxic chemicals that can relax the LOS? Even something as simple as wearing your belt too tightly, or carrying extra weight around your abdomen, places increased pressure on your stomach which can result in heartburn.  

What can you do to help relieve heartburn? If you only get mild heartburn infrequently, taking antacids helps relieve the pain and discomfort. If you think you are taking too many antacids too often then talk to your community pharmacist. They can help you with other medication that will help reduce the amount of acid in your stomach or assist the stomach to empty better.

Making changes to your lifestyle can also help.
•    Avoid lying down or bending after eating.
•    Steer clear of triggers like spicy or fatty foods, alcohol and chewing gum.
•    Try not to overeat.
•    Eat slowly.
•    Avoid tight clothing, like tight belts.
•    Don’t exercise on a full stomach.
•    Go to bed with an empty stomach and raise the head of the bed by 10-15cm.
•    Get enough rest and avoid physical and emotional stress.

With most people heartburn is simply just acid reflux. But do consult your community pharmacist or doctor if you have the following symptoms:  
•    Difficulty or pain when swallowing.
•    Unexplained weight loss.
•    Black bowel motions.
•    Vomiting blood or dark granules.
•    Symptoms associated with shortness of breath, sweating, chest, back or arm pain.