8 Surprising Facts About Heartburn

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on November 16, 2022
  • Your Heart
    Food Triggers Aren't the Only Culprit
    Eating a spicy meal or a big midnight snack aren't the only reasons you might feel the burning in your chest or upper belly called heartburn. When you eat, your stomach produces digestive acids. These acids are meant to stay in your stomach. When they back up into your esophagus or throat, you get heartburn. Being overweight, smoking, and eating certain foods can lead to heartburn. Here are eight more facts about heartburn that may come as a surprise.
  • peppermint tea, herbal tea, tea
    1. Peppermint Can Give You Heartburn
    You might think of peppermint as cooling relief for a bellyache. In fact, a cup of peppermint tea often soothes an upset stomach. But, it's also on the list of foods to avoid if you have heartburn. Peppermint relaxes stomach muscles, which sounds like a good idea. That can be a problem though if it relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter (LES). That's the circular ring of muscle that separates your stomach from your esophagus. If it becomes overly relaxed or weakened, stomach acid can seep up into your esophagus and cause heartburn.
  • grandmother-with-grandchildren
    2. A Hiatal Hernia Is a Common Heartburn Cause
    The hiatus is the opening of the diaphragm—the muscle wall that separates the chest area from the abdomen and normally keeps the stomach in place. If the diaphragm becomes weak, part of the stomach and the part of the esophagus that connects to the stomach can move up into the chest area; this is called a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia is a common cause for heartburn.
  • Smoking
    3. Secondhand Smoke Can Cause Heartburn
    Not only can smoking cause heartburn, but so can secondhand smoke. Inhaling tobacco smoke, from your own cigarette or someone else's, causes the LES to relax. Secondhand smoke is especially hard on children. They, too, can develop heartburn. In young kids, the heartburn can contribute to other health issues including colic and irritability.
  • Woman sleeping
    4. The Way You Sleep Affects Heartburn
    If you sleep on your right side, your back or belly, a shift to the left might help. Research shows that flipping from your right side to your left side decreases heartburn symptoms at night. Raising the head of your bed may also bring relief. Just 6 to 8 inches is usually enough. Place cinder blocks or bricks under the bedposts to do this. Also, don't eat for at least three hours before bedtime. You're more likely to get heartburn if you lie down on a full stomach.
  • Man clutching stomach
    5. Heartburn Doesn't Usually Cause Stomach Ulcers
    Heartburn may be a symptom of a stomach ulcer, but it's rarely the cause of ulcers. The most common cause of a stomach ulcer is infection by the bacterium H. pylori. H. pylori is often spread by contaminated food or water. The second most common cause of stomach ulcers is heavy use of medications called NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen. On the other hand, spicy foods and stress may cause heartburn, but not ulcers.
  • Multiple medicine bottles
    6. Many Medications Cause Heartburn
    Heartburn is a side effect of many types of common drugs. These include asthma medicines, calcium channel blockers (taken for high blood pressure), antihistamines, sedatives, and antidepressants. Sildenafil, the erectile dysfunction drug, is another cause of heartburn. If you take medicine for any condition and have frequent heartburn, review all of your medications with your doctor.
  • Clothing Choices Matter
    7. Loosening Your Belt Can Help
    It's no myth that tight clothing can cause heartburn. In fact, anything that constricts your belly can force acid to seep out of your stomach and up into your esophagus. That includes a tight belt and other clothing like compression shorts and control-top pantyhose. Wearing loose clothing can help keep stomach acids where they belong. So can losing weight and eating smaller meals.
  • Human Heart Beats
    8. Heartburn Really Can Feel Just Like a Heart Attack
    Heartburn can cause chest pain much like a heart attack. If you have heartburn along with nausea, sweating, weakness, or trouble breathing, don't assume it's just heartburn. Get help right away if what you think is heartburn turns into squeezing chest pain or pain in your left shoulder, arm, jaw or back. Occasional heartburn is common. However, protect your health by letting your doctor know if you have heartburn twice a week or more.
8 Surprising Facts About Heartburn

About The Author

  1. Peptic Ulcer Disease. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/peptic-ulcer/Pages/ove...
  2. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease in Adults. NYU Langone Medical Center. http://nyulangone.org/conditions/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-in-adults
  3. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER) and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in Adults. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/ger-and-gerd-in-adults...
  4. Hiatal Hernia. Esophageal Cancer Awareness Association. http://www.ecaware.org/what-is-esophageal-cancer/risk-factors/hiatus-hernia/
  5. Exposure to tobacco smoke. Reflux Infants Support Association. http://www.reflux.org.au/articles/exposure-to-tobacco-smoke/
  6. When Heartburn Lingers Too Long. Rush University Medical Center. https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/chronic-heartburn
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Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 16
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.