If you are experiencing a burning sensation in your chest or throat, you may have heartburn caused by acid reflux. The uncomfortable symptoms of acid reflux last for about two hours in adults, though sometimes they can last shorter or longer depending on what caused the heartburn. Understanding how acid reflux works can help you treat and manage the symptoms.
Heartburn results from stomach acid rising through the esophagus, a tube that connects the throat to the stomach. This tube is closed off from the stomach by a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When the LES relaxes or fails to close, stomach acid will rise and irritate the esophagus, causing the burning feeling we know as heartburn.
Increased acid production caused by certain foods and drinks can lead to more stomach acid rising past the LES and into the esophagus. Common triggers include:
If your heartburn is caused by eating a trigger food, the acid reflux in your throat will most likely last until your body digests the food. Each person is different, but the digestive process takes two to five hours.
Heartburn symptoms can return several hours later if you bend over or lie down, meaning acid reflux can last a little longer at night when you lie flat.
How often and how long heartburn lasts can also depend on personal factors such as your weight, the type of medications you take, if you are pregnant or if you have a health condition that puts extra pressure on your stomach and chest.
There are several ways to address acid reflux symptoms, including medications, lifestyle changes and various home remedies.
One of the best ways to relieve heartburn is over-the-counter (OTC) medication. There are several options, such as:
Certain habits often cause or worsen heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms. If you are experiencing heartburn, avoid eating spicy, fried or acidic foods. Keep your clothing loose, and if you are preparing to sleep, elevate your upper body with a firm wedge pillow.
You can make many lifestyle changes to prevent heartburn from appearing in the future. Consider the following adjustments:
A few home remedies you could try to help reduce heartburn symptoms include:
These home remedies have varying results, working well for some while making symptoms worse for others. The goal of these remedies is to neutralize the acid, reduce inflammation and soothe the stomach.
Occasional heartburn is not dangerous, and many people will experience it from time to time. If you have acid reflux for weeks at a time with no relief from OTC medication, you may want to speak with your doctor.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when heartburn or other symptoms, such as a sour liquid in the mouth or trouble swallowing, occur at least twice a week, impacting the quality of life. Untreated GERD can lead to chronic inflammation and potentially cancerous conditions.
If you’re experiencing heartburn more than twice a week, your doctor may help identify underlying causes and appropriate treatments.