Heartburn and acid reflux

Heartburn is a burning feeling in the chest caused by stomach acid travelling up towards the throat (acid reflux). If it keeps happening, it's called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

Check if you have acid reflux

The main symptoms of acid reflux are:

You may also have:

Symptoms are often worse after eating, when lying down and when bending over.

Causes of heartburn and acid reflux

Lots of people get heartburn from time to time. There's often no obvious reason why.

Sometimes it's caused or made worse by:

How you can ease heartburn and acid reflux yourself

Simple lifestyle changes can help stop or reduce heartburn.

Do

  • eat smaller, more frequent meals

  • raise the head end of your bed by 10 to 20cm, so your chest and head are above the level of your waist, which can stop stomach acid travelling up towards your throat

  • try to lose weight if you're overweight

  • try to find ways to relax

Don’t

  • do not have food or drink that triggers your symptoms

  • do not eat within 3 or 4 hours before bed

  • do not wear clothes that are tight around your waist

  • do not smoke

  • do not drink too much alcohol

  • do not stop taking any prescribed medicine without speaking to a doctor first

A pharmacist can help with heartburn and acid reflux

Speak to a pharmacist for advice if you keep getting heartburn.

They may recommend medicines called antacids or alginates that can help ease your symptoms.

It's best to take these with food or soon after eating, as this is when you're most likely to get heartburn. They may also work for longer if taken with food.

Although antacids and alginates help symptoms in the short term, they will not cure the problem and should not be taken regularly for long periods.

If you’re pregnant, a pharmacist can advise you about medicines you can take.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • lifestyle changes and pharmacy medicines are not helping your heartburn
  • you have heartburn most days for 3 weeks or more
  • you also have other symptoms, like food getting stuck in your throat, frequently being sick, or losing weight for no reason

A GP can provide stronger treatments and help rule out any more serious causes of your symptoms.

If at any time you feel your symptoms are getting worse, contact a GP or NHS 111.

Treatment for heartburn and acid reflux from a GP

If you have acid reflux, a GP may prescribe a medicine called a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) that reduces how much acid your stomach makes.

PPIs include:

You'll usually need to take this type of medicine for 4 or 8 weeks, depending on how serious your acid reflux is.

Go back to the GP if your symptoms return after stopping your medicine. You may need a long-term prescription.

Important: Important

If a PPI does not help, your doctor may suggest trying a different type of medicine called a H2 receptor antagonist.

Tests and surgery for heartburn and acid reflux

If medicines do not help or your symptoms are severe, a GP may refer you to a specialist for:

Page last reviewed: 9 September 2020
Next review due: 9 September 2023