Heartburn and acid reflux

Heartburn is a burning feeling in the chest. It's caused by stomach acid moving up towards the throat (acid reflux). If it keeps happening, it's called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

Symptoms of acid reflux

The main symptoms of acid reflux are:

  • heartburn – a burning sensation in the middle of your chest
  • an unpleasant sour taste in your mouth, caused by stomach acid

You may also have:

  • a cough or hiccups that keep coming back
  • a hoarse voice
  • bad breath
  • bloating and feeling sick

Symptoms are often worse after eating, when lying down and when bending over.

Causes of heartburn and acid reflux

Lots of people get heartburn from time to time. There's often no obvious reason why.

Sometimes it's caused or made worse by:

  • certain food and drink – such as coffee, tomatoes, alcohol, chocolate and fatty or spicy foods
  • being overweight
  • smoking
  • pregnancy
  • stress and anxiety
  • some medicines, such as anti-inflammatory painkillers (like ibuprofen)
  • a hiatus hernia – when part of your stomach moves up into your chest

Preventing heartburn and acid reflux

Simple lifestyle changes can help stop or reduce heartburn.

Do

Don't

  • do not have food or drink that triggers your symptoms

  • do not eat within 3 or 4 hours before bed

  • do not wear clothes that are tight around your waist

  • do not smoke

  • do not drink too much alcohol

  • do not stop taking any prescribed medicine without speaking to a doctor first

When to see a pharmacist

Speak to a pharmacist for advice if you keep getting heartburn.

They can recommend medicines called antacids that can help ease your symptoms.

It's best to take these with food or soon after eating. This is when you're most likely to get heartburn. They may also work for longer if you take them with food.

When to see your GP

See your GP if:

  • lifestyle changes and pharmacy medicines are not helping
  • you have heartburn most days for 3 weeks or more
  • you have other symptoms, like food getting stuck in your throat, often being sick or losing weight for no reason

Your GP can provide stronger treatments and help rule out more serious causes.

Treating heartburn and acid reflux

Your GP may prescribe a medicine called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). This reduces how much acid your stomach makes. PPIs include omeprazole and lansoprazole.

You'll usually need to take this type of medicine for 4 or 8 weeks, depending on how serious your acid reflux is.

Go back to the GP if your symptoms return after stopping your medicine. You may need a long-term prescription.

Tests and surgery for heartburn and acid reflux

If medicines do not help or your symptoms are severe, your GP may refer you to a specialist for:

  • tests to find out what's causing your symptoms, such as a gastroscopy (a thin tube with a camera to look inside your throat and stomach)
  • an operation on your stomach to stop acid reflux – called a laparoscopic fundoplication


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

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