Heartburn: The Ultimate Guide – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment


What Is Heartburn?

Heartburn is commonly experienced as a burning feeling in the chest caused by stomach acid rising up towards the throat which is known as acid reflux. Most of us will have heartburn at some point in our lives. 1


What Does Heartburn Feel Like?

Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning sensation usually felt in the centre of the chest, just below the breast bone and sometimes travelling up to the throat.3

The discomfort tends to rise upwards and outwards.2

It can often feel worse when you’ve eaten, when bending over or while lying down and tends to be more common after a meal and during the night.1

Infographic showing the feeling of heartburn

Heartburn Symptoms

Heartburn is very common, affecting up to 25% of UK adults.2 There are two main symptoms associated with heartburn; a burning sensation in the middle of the chest and an unpleasant sour taste.1

Sufferers can also experience: 

  • A ‘repeating’ of stomach contents in the throat or mouth2 
  • Recurring cough or hiccups1 
  • Bad breath1 
  • Bloated or feeling sick1


How Long Does Heartburn Last?

Heartburn symptoms vary from person to person but in most cases it can last between 30 to 60 minutes. Heartburn symptoms can sometimes last up to three hours but this tends to be uncommon.4  

While many of us get heartburn from time to time, if it occurs frequently you may be suffering from gastro-oesophageal reflux disease or GORD. If you think you may be suffering from GORD seek the advice of a GP for a diagnosis. They can also provide stronger treatments to relieve your symptoms.1 


Symptoms of heartburn

Why Does Heartburn Happen?

Heartburn occurs when a muscular ring, or valve, prevents stomach contents from entering the oesophagus (the food tube or gullet). When this system fails due to weakness it can allow stomach contents, including acid – produced by the stomach to aid digestion – to travel the wrong way.2 This acid reflux causes heartburn.2



Stages Of Heartburn: How Does Heartburn Happen

Heartburn Causes

For occasional heartburn there’s often no obvious cause. We may have been rushing our food5 or been a little bit stressed or anxious but it can be harder to associate it to an actual reason when it happens infrequently1. Certain food and drink triggers can cause or make heartburn worse which is why it can feel more severe after eating a meal.1 It can also be caused by a number of other lifestyle factors and pregnancy.1  

If you’re a regular heartburn sufferer and it appears to be caused by food or drink it’s a good idea to keep a diary to record what you eat and drink to better understand the potential link to your symptoms.6


Common Heartburn Causes

Most people will experience heartburn symptoms at some point in their lives.

Common causes of heartburn include1: 

  • Eating or drinking certain foods and drinks some examples are alcohol, caffeinated drinks, spicy foods, fatty foods, tomatoes and chocolate. 
  • Eating too much  or too quickly. 
  • Being overweight 
  • Smoking 
  • Stress and anxiety 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Hiatus hernia – when part of the stomach moves up into the chest 



Heartburn Relief & Treatment

For many of us heartburn is an occasional nuisance. For others it can be a persistent, even lifelong problem which often needs to be controlled through self-help measures and medication. There are a number of lifestyle, home remedies and over the counter heartburn treatments that may be recommended by your doctor or pharmacist.  

Ways To Relieve Heartburn At Home

There are a number of lifestyle changes you can try to relieve symptoms from heartburn, these include:1 

  • Try to steer clear of your known food and drink triggers. 
  • Avoid eating large, heavy meals, try smaller portions more frequently. 
  • Don’t eat within three or four hours of going to bed. 
  • If heartburn is a problem at night, try raising the head end of your bed a little – about 10-20cms – to prevent stop acid leaking into the throat. 
  • If stress and anxiety is causing or making your symptoms worse, try to find ways to relax more and take time out. 
  • Wear loser clothing around the waist. 
  • Loose weight if you’re overweight 
  • Avoid smoking 
  • Losing excess weight and not smoking
  • Avoid smoking 
Tips For Acid Reflux, Heartburn & Indigestion

Heartburn Tablets

If you regularly get heartburn, you can speak with a GP or pharmacist for advice. GPs can provide stronger treatments or heartburn tablets, these include a medicine called omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor or PPI, which reduces the amount of acid your stomach makes.1  

You can pick up Omeprazole over the counter from most local pharmacies with Pyrocalm Control. Omeprazole is the active ingredient in Pyrocalm Control which is a widely used treatment for heartburn and acid reflux.  Pyrocalm Control works by blocking the proton pump inside the cells which are involved in producing stomach acid.7

If you buy heartburn tablets or omeprazole over the counter; from a pharmacy or supermarket you’re advised to check with your GP before taking it for longer than two weeks.10 

Heartburn Medical Advice

If lifestyle changes and medicines such as antacids are not helping to relieve or prevent your heartburn seek advice from your GP.1 You should also speak to your GP if you have heartburn most days for three weeks or more.1



Pyrocalm Control: Over the counter omeprazole

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Pyrocalm Control® 20mg Gastro-Resistant Tablets. For the short-term treatment of reflux symptoms in adults.
Contains 20 mg Omeprazole. Always read the label. Medicines can affect the unborn baby.
Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine in pregnancy.