Heartburn is a burning pain in your chest, just behind your breastbone. The pain is often worse after eating, in the evening, or when lying down or bending over.
Occasional heartburn is common and no cause for alarm. Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn on their own with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications.
Heartburn that is more frequent or interferes with your daily routine may be a symptom of a more serious condition that requires medical care.
Symptoms of heartburn include:
- A burning pain in the chest that usually occurs after eating and may occur at night
- Pain that worsens when lying down or bending over
- Bitter or acidic taste in the mouth
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate help if you experience severe chest pain or pressure, especially when combined with other signs and symptoms such as pain in the arm or jaw or difficulty breathing. Chest pain may be a symptom of a heart attack.
Make an appointment with your doctor if:
- Heartburn occurs more than twice a week
- Symptoms persist despite use of over-the-counter medications
- You have difficulty swallowing
- You have persistent nausea or vomiting
- You have weight loss because of poor appetite or difficulty eating
Get the latest health information from Mayo Clinic delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe for free and receive your in-depth guide to
digestive health, plus the latest on health innovations and news. You can unsubscribe at any
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing
Your in-depth digestive health guide will be in your inbox shortly. You will also receive
emails from Mayo Clinic on the latest health news, research, and care.
If you don’t receive our email within 5 minutes, check your SPAM folder, then contact us
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
How heartburn and GERD occur
Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of your esophagus relaxes at the wrong time, allowing stomach acid to back up into your esophagus. This can cause heartburn and other signs and symptoms. Frequent or constant reflux can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (esophagus).
Normally when you swallow, a band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach. Then the muscle tightens again.
If the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus (acid reflux) and cause heartburn. The acid backup may be worse when you're bent over or lying down.
Certain foods and drinks can trigger heartburn in some people, including:
- Spicy foods
- Citrus products
- Tomato products, such as ketchup
- Fatty or fried foods
- Alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee or other caffeinated beverages
- Large or fatty meals
Being overweight or pregnant also can increase your risk of experiencing heartburn.
Heartburn that occurs frequently and interferes with your routine is considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD treatment may require prescription medications and, occasionally, surgery or other procedures. GERD can seriously damage your esophagus or lead to precancerous changes in the esophagus called Barrett's esophagus.