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First of all, though, let's remind ourselves...

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is a hot, burning sensation in your chest from when stomach acid rises into your food pipe (oesophagus). It often occurs due to a weakened lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) – the ring of muscle between your oesophagus and stomach. Stomach acid can rise without you realising as it doesn't always necessarily cause the pain of heartburn and can depend on the amount of acid and / or how sensitive your oesophagus lining is.

The lining of your oesophagus isn't designed to protect against stomach acid - unlike the lining in your stomach. Therefore, if acid comes into contact with it, pain may result.

Heartburn is often described as:

  • A hot pain or burning sensation in the chest area, often behind the breastbone and / or at the back of the throat
  • A tight feeling in the chest
  • An acidic taste that may or may not be accompanied by a feeling of sickness

Why does heartburn happen?

Heartburn can occur for different reasons. Firstly, it could be because the ring of muscle at the bottom of your oesophagus is weak and is unable to keep your stomach contents (including the acid) in place.

Secondly, it may be due to dietary and lifestyle factors, as described below:

Food-related reasons, such as eating:

  • Large or irregular meals or eating on the run
  • Fatty foods, spicy foods, chocolate, mint or foods that contain tomatoes 

Drink-related reasons, such as drinking:

  • Citrus juices or very hot drinks
  • Caffeine-based drinks
  • Alcohol (especially if you have too much and / or too quickly)

Other reasons:

  • Smoking
  • Being a little overweight
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes and/or pressure of a baby on the digestive tract and stomach, during pregnancy
  • Some medicines have heartburn as a noted side effect
  • Wearing clothes that are tight around your waist and abdomen

The triggers of heartburn differ from person to person and the symptoms can differ too. They may also be a combination of the causes listed above but can heartburn affect your health in the longer term?

The wide-ranging effects of long-term heartburn

Most people only suffer from heartburn occasionally and may just let it pass or take some medication to help relieve symptoms. 

Simply putting up with your heartburn and allowing it to go untreated, however, may have certain implications.

Disturbed sleep: If you get heartburn at night, especially if it happens regularly, your sleep quality could be poor. If this is the case, it may have an impact on your concentration, decision making, work and family life the next day. You may disturb your partner's sleep too.

Damage to your oesophagus: If stomach acid repeatedly comes into contact with your oesophagus, the sensitive lining can become damaged. The acid can erode the tissue. This may lead to bleeding and / or ulcers (open sores on the oesophageal lining).

In some cases, long-term exposure of the oesophageal lining to stomach acid can lead to a condition known as Barrett's oesophagus - where abnormal cells develop in the lining. These cells could potentially become cancerous. Thankfully, this is rare.

Most people however, do not put up with symptoms at all, or for very long. They may take medication themselves or consult their doctor. Several treatments are available over the counter and this can often be the first port of call for many heartburn sufferers.

Treating heartburn

In addition to any treatment you may consider, it's a good idea to note the dietary and lifestyle related reasons why heartburn may occur - as shown above. Taking these points into account may help you to prevent heartburn in the first place.

However, while you are making or considering dietary and lifestyle changes, you could continue to experience heartburn. If so, you may feel you need treatment for the symptoms. Why not consider Gaviscon Double Action?

Gaviscon Double Action

Gaviscon Double Action gets to work instantly. Its double action involves neutralising the unwanted, excess acid and also forming a protective barrier, or raft, on the top of your stomach contents.

This physical barrier helps to keep stomach contents and acid in place. Gaviscon Double Action can provide effective, long-lasting relief. In fact, Gaviscon lasts up to twice as long as some other treatments known as antacids.

Double Action Gaviscon can be purchased over the counter from pharmacies. If you follow the link, you can find out more about Gaviscon. The whole range of products can be found here.

Long term treatments

If you are suffering chronic heartburn, you should consider seeing your doctor. There are several treatment options available, which may help you in the long term. They may decide to prescribe medication that needs to be taken daily over the course of a few weeks or months. Another treatment they may prescribe is acid suppressants to reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces, in order to prevent heartburn occurring.

Heartburn doesn’t need to be a long term problem. Simply try to take the advice in this article on how to prevent and treat heartburn. If you are concerned that your symptoms are not improving, visit your pharmacist or GP for more information.

All information presented is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. Gaviscon Double Action for Heartburn & Indigestion. Always read the label. If symptoms are severe or prolonged you should consult a doctor or pharmacist.

Article published 7 May 2021