Heartburn is a symptom that most of us get at some point in our lives, but fortunately, it can usually be controlled with some simple measures or medicine.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning sensation in the stomach and chest, which may go all the way up to your throat. This happens when excess acid escapes from the stomach and goes into the food pipe or oesophagus.

You may get other symptoms along with heartburn, such as feeling sick or vomiting, bloating, passing wind, bad breath, or a metallic taste in the mouth.

What are the causes of heartburn?

One in three adults experience heartburn every few days, while one in 10 get heartburn every day. There are many possible causes of heartburn.

Some common causes are:

• Certain foods, like spicy, fatty and hot foods

• A larger than usual meal

• Alcohol, sometimes even in small amounts

• Caffeine

Some conditions can cause long-term heartburn. These include having a hiatus hernia or a hernia of the stomach. This happens when the stomach slips through the diaphragm – a thin muscular dome that separates the chest from the abdomen.

Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) is when heartburn occurs frequently. Risk factors for developing GORD include being overweight, excess alcohol, smoking and stress.

What can I do to manage my heartburn symptoms?

Making some lifestyle changes may help you to manage your symptoms:

• Lose weight if you're overweight and aim to maintain a healthy body weight

• Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake

• Eat small, regular meals and avoid eating late at night

• Avoid lying down on your back when sleeping, especially soon after eating. Elevating your head with pillows may help considerably

• Attempt to control your everyday stress levels. Find some time for yourself to do something you enjoy

If you're still experiencing symptoms, talk to your pharmacist who can give you advice on which medicines to take. Antacids come in liquid or dissolvable tablet form and usually work quickly. Antacids are intended to be taken only when you get symptoms. Talk to your pharmacist if you're unsure about how to use them.

Your Doctor may also recommend proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2-receptor antagonists. These medicines reduce the amount of acid in the stomach and can be taken as a short course or on a regular basis.

When should I see my Doctor?

• If you get heartburn on most days, for three weeks or more

• If you cough or vomit blood

• If you pass black stools

• If you have difficulty in swallowing food

• If your symptoms are not relieved by lifestyle changes and medication

Next steps

• Look for a cause of your heartburn and check if there are any lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce symptoms

• Talk to your pharmacist for advice on which medicines are best suited for you

• See your Doctor if your symptoms persist