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What is heartburn?

  • What is heartburn?

    When you eat or drink, proton pumps in your stomach release acid which helps break down food. Because the stomach lining is protected this doesn't hurt at all. Usually the valve at the base of the oesophagus keeps the acid in the stomach so you never feel it. Sometimes that valve relaxes and allows acid to escape into the oesophagus, which has no protective lining. This is heartburn, and it can be painful.

    Heartburn is caused by food and acid from the stomach washing back into the oesophagus that can also result in an unpleasant sour taste (acid regurgitation)1.

  • What is acid reflux?

    At the entrance to our stomach is a valve (or ring of muscle) called the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, the LES closes as soon as food passes through it. If the LES doesn’t close all the way or if it opens too often, acid produced by the stomach can move up into the oesophagus. This is called acid reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux. This can cause symptoms such as burning chest pain called heartburn.

  • What is frequent heartburn?

    Frequent heartburn is heartburn that occurs two or more times per week.


    Occurs sporadically
    The cause is usually obvious
    Often associated with overeating, spicy foods, rich desserts or alcohol


    Occurs two or more times per week
    More common after meals or at night
    Stress and food may be triggers

  • What causes heartburn?

    As heartburn is different for everyone, there is a wide range of possible triggers. You might even find you have different triggers at different times, especially if you get heartburn frequently. It can help to keep notes for a few weeks, to work out what sparks heartburn for you and when.



    Spicy/acidic food can trigger heartburn. Or it could be rich or fatty foods or chocolate. Simply eating a big meal, or eating too late at night, can bring it on.



    Alcohol or fizzy drinks can trigger heartburn. Drink moderate amounts and avoid lying down after drinking.



    Smoking can trigger heartburn or make it feel worse once it starts. Smoking weakens the valve between your stomach and your oesophagus, allowing acid to leak upwards, plus it can cause you to produce more acid.


    Stress and fatigue

    Lack of sleep and stress can all trigger heartburn by putting strain on your body, especially if you’re prone to it anyway3.



    Hormonal changes can weaken the valve between your stomach and oesophagus, letting acid leak upwards. Your changing shape can also increase pressure on that valve and your stomach, making heartburn more likely5.

    Do not take Nexium 24HR if you are pregnant unless your doctor says so.

  • What does heartburn feel like?

    Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest or throat, due to stomach acid that rises out of the stomach and into the oesophagus. The pain can range from slight to strong discomfort.

  • The common symptoms of heartburn

    Heartburn is different for everyone, but it normally involves burning pain and related discomfort. You might have one or more of these signs.

    Physical symptoms

    • A burning pain in the chest area, the back of the throat or along the oesophagus1.
    • Disturbances to sleep2,3.
    • A sour or unpleasant taste or fluid in the back of the throat or mouth1.

    Psychological effects2,4

    • Feeling preoccupied with setting off heartburn again.
    • Irritation or frustration over frequent burning pain and how it affects your life.
  • Foods to avoid

    Cut out any foods and drinks that make your heartburn pain feel worse. Common problem foods include:

    • Spicy foods like chilli and curry
    • Onions and garlic
    • Oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruits
    • Tomato products, including tomato sauce and pasta sauces
    • Fatty or fried foods
    • Peppermint, including peppermint herbal tea or chewing gum
    • Chocolate
    • Vinegar
    • Mustard
    • Alcohol
    • Soft drinks, and other carbonated drinks
    • Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks

    These foods may cause acid reflux by increasing the acidity of stomach fluids, or by triggering the valve between the oesophagus and the stomach to open when it should be closed.

    How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Large or fatty meals are difficult to digest and can cause acid reflux symptoms. Try eating smaller meals and be sure to chew each bite of food thoroughly.

  • Lifestyle changes to help relieve heartburn

    Lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications can be an effective combination to relieve symptoms of burning pain in the chest that is caused by acid reflux.

    Here are our top tips to reduce the acidity of stomach acid and prevent it from moving up into the oesophagus:

    • Think about what and when you eat and drink

    Avoid foods or drinks that trigger heartburn for you – but also think about when and how much you eat. Cut out bedtime snacks or large meals late at night. Eat slowly and wait before lying down or exercising. Cutting down on alcohol, coffee or fizzy drinks can also help.

    • Exercise regularly & keep fit

    Regular exercise and losing weight can often help. Though certain abdominal exercises like stomach crunches can also push acid out of the stomach, causing heartburn.

    • Quit smoking

    Smoking can trigger heartburn or make it feel worse once it starts. If you do smoke, try avoiding it just before or after eating.

    • Change your bedtime routine

    Lying down usually makes acid reflux symptoms worse, especially after eating. When you sit upright, gravity helps your stomach acid to move downwards – instead of back up into your oesophagus where it can cause a burning sensation. If you get a burning feeling in your chest or throat that becomes worse at night, try these tips:

    • Wait two to three hours after eating before going to bed or lying down, to give your body time to digest.
    • If pain is still bothering you, try sleeping propped up with pillows.
    • Relieve stress

    Stress can make symptoms of acid reflux worse. Everybody has a certain level of stress in their lives, but learning to deal with the ups and down of life can make managing acid reflux easier.

    If your pain that feels like burning in chest that rises up the throat doesn't improve from these diet and lifestyle changes, you might consider speaking to your doctor or healthcare professional about your symptoms, or taking a medication such as Nexium 24HR to help manage the symptoms of frequent heartburn.


  1. Health Direct Australia.
  2. Farup C et al.Arch Intern Med 2001;10:45-52
  3. Johnson DA, et al. CMRO 2015;31(2): 243-250
  4. Kulig M et al. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2003;18:767-76