Heartburn can really put a damper on things. For example, let's say you're having a great night out with friends. You went out to a nice dinner, and now it's time to get a couple of cocktails at another bar, maybe even go dancing. But then it stops you in your tracks (and the "it" here is heartburn). You're feeling uncomfortable, you might even feel some pain, and you're just not feeling yourself anymore. More cocktails? No way—just your pajamas and a whole bunch of Tums, please.
"Heartburn (aka gastroesophageal reflux disease/GERD aka acid reflux) GERD is a digestive disorder that typically develops when stomach acids repeatedly flow back up into the esophagus," says Tamar Samuels, MS, RDN, NBC-HWC, a registered dietitian, national board–certified health and wellness coach, and co-founder of Culina Health. "Your esophagus and stomach are connected by a muscle ring called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). In normal circumstances, the LES closes after allowing food to pass through the esophagus and into the stomach. This prevents stomach acids from backflowing into your esophagus. An abnormal or weakened LES can lose its ability to effectively close during food transit, allowing stomach acids to leak back into the esophagus. This backwash, known as acid reflux, can irritate the mucosal lining of your esophagus, which may lead to unwanted symptoms and potential complications."
Some symptoms you might experience are a burning pain in the chest and throat, an uptick in symptoms when lying down, and a bitter or acidic taste in your mouth, adds Carolyn Brown, MS, RD, co-founder of Indigo Wellness Group. And interestingly, Brown says sometimes it's not that there's too much stomach acid—some people can experience heartburn from having too little stomach acid.
So how can you deal with the pain and discomfort or avoid it in the first place? And what remedies or foods should you try to ease heartburn? We get to all of that below, but first, it's important to figure out the common causes.