Heartburn is a common condition that is often diet-related, and in some people the symptoms can have an impact on their quality of life.1 This article is your guide to the most common causes, signs, relief and prevention of heartburn.

Heartburn causes & symptoms

What is heartburn

Heartburn (also known as reflux) is caused by the contents of the stomach, including acid, rising from the stomach back up into the oesophagus (food pipe).2

What does heartburn feel like?

Symptoms of heartburn are typically described as a burning sensation in the back of the throat and chest area, usually behind the breastbone.2,3 A bitter or sour taste in the back of the throat is sometimes associated with heartburn/can be another symptom of heartburn.3

What causes heartburn?

Heartburn symptoms are usually related to diet, although a small proportion of people may experience symptoms irrespective of what they eat.1

The Way You Eat

Avoid the following when eating:4

  • Eating large meals and overfilling your stomach
  • Eating too quickly
  • Eating just before bedtime.

Foods and drinks that may trigger heartburn4

  • Fatty and salty foods
  • Chocolate and mint (such as spearmint or peppermint)
  • Caffeinated or carbonated beverages
  • Citrus fruits or juices
  • Spicy foods, garlic, onions and tomatoes
  • Alcohol.

Preventing heartburn

Making changes to your diet can help.1

  • Eat a balanced diet – fatty foods may take longer to break down in the stomach, therefore eating too much of this may trigger heartburn.5
  • Enjoy a fibre-rich diet – this may help reduce the risk of heartburn.4
  • Avoid foods that trigger your heartburn – this may include spicy foods, mint, chocolate, or alcohol.4,5
  • Don’t add extra salt to highly-salted food – for example, when you are eating salted fish or meat.4

Other changes to your lifestyle may also help to prevent heartburn. For example, avoiding bending or lifting, particularly after eating as this can increase pressure on your stomach. Raising the head of your bed may also help prevent heartburn from occurring while you’re sleeping.2

What helps relieve heartburn?

Taking time to de-stress, as stress can make heartburn symptoms feel worse6,7
Avoid lying down after eating and avoid eating or drinking for 2–3 hours before bedtime1
Weight loss can help improve heartburn symptoms if you are overweight1
Try to stop smoking, as smoking is an identified risk factor for heartburn1,4
Over-the-counter medications such as alginate-based therapies (e.g., Gaviscon) or antacids, may help provide relief from the pain and discomfort of heartburn. Other over-the-counter heartburn medications and proton pump inhibitors.1


Heartburn usually occurs after mealtimes. You are more likely to get heartburn by eating too much, too fast, or too close to bedtime. Eating certain types of foods and drinks can also increase your risk of getting heartburn.

To help quickly relieve the pain and discomfort of heartburn, Gaviscon Dual Action tablet or liquid contains both an antacid to neutralise stomach acid and alginate to prevent the reflux of stomach contents.* Other tips to help reduce heartburn include not lying down after eating, not eating 2 to 3 hours before going to bed, quitting smoking, and losing weight.

Heartburn usually feels like an uncomfortable or painful burning behind your breastbone that rises up toward your throat.

Heartburn is the result of acidic stomach contents flowing back up the oesophagus from the stomach, causing irritation and pain inside the oesophagus.

First, remember to avoid drinks that are common triggers for heartburn: carbonated beverages, caffeinated beverages, citrus fruit juices, and alcohol. Drinking fluids between meals rather than with meals can help reduce heartburn.

First, remember to avoid drinks that are common triggers for heartburn: carbonated beverages, caffeinated beverages, citrus fruit juices, and alcohol. Drinking fluids between meals rather than with meals can help reduce heartburn.

Heartburn that occurs every now and then is common, especially if we indulge in the types of food or drink that we know can trigger our heartburn. However, some people experience heartburn every day, no matter what they eat or drink. If you experience regular heartburn or have any concerns about your symptoms, you should talk to your doctor about lifestyle modifications or medications that could help reduce your symptoms.

Drinking milk may help reduce stomach acid for a short time but over time, nutrients such as fat in milk will stimulate the stomach to produce more acid.

Adding milk to an already full stomach also risks making heartburn worse.

Foods that can trigger heartburn include foods high in fat, salt, or spices, as well as onion, garlic, tomato, citrus fruits, mint, and chocolate.

Stress can make your heartburn feel worse, so taking steps to relax and reduce stress can help relieve your symptoms.

Heartburn often occurs after eating and often gets worse when you lie down. So eating a big meal right before you go to bed is a recipe for heartburn that can interrupt your night’s sleep. Try eating your last meal 2 to 3 hours before lying down or going to bed.

Heartburn is considered ‘frequent’ if it happens two or more times each week or if it is severe enough to negatively affect your quality of life. If this describes your heartburn, talk to your doctor about appropriate treatment options.

*Strugala V, et al. 2010 (Sponsored by RB).

This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.

Always read the label. Use only as directed. If symptoms persist, talk to your healthcare professional. Reckitt Benckiser, Auckland. 


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  1. Therapeutic Guidelines March 2020 edition. Disorders of the oesophagus: Gastro-oesophageal reflux. Available at: https://tgldcdp.tg.org.au (accessed July 2020).
  2. Better Health Channel. Indigestion. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/indigestion (accessed July 2020).
  3. Department of Health (2019) Clinical Practice Guidelines: Pregnancy Care. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health. Part I:56 Reflux (heartburn).
  4. World Gastroenterology Organisation. WGO Handbook on Heartburn: A Global Perspective. 2015.
  5. Newberry C, Lynch K. J Thorac Dis 2019;11(Suppl 12):S1594–S1601.
  6. Sandhu D, Fass R. Proc Shevchenko Sci Soc Med Sci 2018;52:10–15.
  7. Cho YK. J Neurogastroenterol Motil 2017;23:526–532.