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Causes of Heartburn

Certain foods can trigger heartburn  

Certain foods and beverages are known to stimulate the production of stomach acid, while others can weaken the barrier between the stomach and esophagus. Both chocolate and coffee are thought to cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax and allow the contents of the stomach to back up into the esophagus. 

Other triggers associated with heartburn include:

  • Holiday feasts
  • Late night snacks
  • Too much to drink
  • Cigarettes, pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco
  • Tea, hot chocolate, cola soft drinks, and other drinks with caffeine
  • Milk
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Peppermint
  • Tomatoes and tomato products
  • Fried, fatty, and spicy foods
  • Stressful situations
  • Being overweight

But there are other heartburn triggers.
Heartburn occurs at night because the effects of gravity can cause food and acid to back up into the esophagus more easily when you are lying down. If you are bothered by heartburn at night, experts recommend sleeping on your left side, as right-sided sleep has been shown to worsen heartburn.

Many people experience a stomach ache, diarrhea or loss of appetite in response to stress. While stress itself does not cause heartburn, it does foster behaviors that can lead to it. 

For example, eating too much, eating more fatty foods than usual, drinking more alcohol, smoking more, or eating on the run can cause heartburn. All digestive functions are mediated by nerve impulses and hormone signals in the body. Stress can alter these signals, thereby disrupting normal bowel functioning.

Alcohol weakens the lower esophageal sphincter, causing heartburn by allowing acidic stomach contents to flow upwards into the esophagus.
Studies show smokers have decreased gastric motility while smoking, which can cause less efficient digestion. Smoking can cause heartburn by weakening the esophageal sphincter. Smoking also causes an increased production of acid and movement of intestinal bile into the stomach, which makes the burning back-flow more harmful. The effects of smoking on the digestive system are usually temporary and are generally reversible when smoking stops.
Conditions that put pressure on the stomach…
  • Obesity
    Approximately one third of all adults in the U.S. are currently overweight. Both being overweight or obese carry health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, and gallbladder disease. Both can also worsen heartburn due to excessive pressure in the area of the stomach or abdomen "pushing" stomach contents back up into the esophagus. Studies show that exercise and weight reduction can reduce heartburn.
  • Pregnancy
    Nearly 50% of pregnant women complain of heartburn in the later stages of pregnancy. If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medication. 
Bending forward or lying down too soon after meals
76% of people who suffer stomach ailments suffer most often and severely at night:
  • Food and acid can back up into the esophagus more easily when you are lying down.
  • Lying down places extra pressure on your stomach and esophagus.
  • Experts suggest sleeping on the left side of the body, as opposed to the right side. Due to the natural curve of the esophagus right-sided sleep has been shown to exacerbate heartburn.
Hiatal Hernia
40 percent of Americans have a hiatal hernia.
  • Hiatal hernia pokes through the diaphragm, preventing the lower esophageal sphincter from closing completely and allowing acid to travel more freely back into the esophagus.
  • Though not a cause of heartburn, larger hiatal hernias tend to develop in patients who have long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


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