Heartburn Treatment Options

How lifestyle changes and medications can ease symptoms

Heartburn treatment involves a mix of prevention strategies and medication. Dietary changes can help prevent acid reflux, while antacids, H2 blockers, and PPIs can help soothe the burning feeling in the lining of the esophagus—the tube that connects your stomach to your mouth.

Most people experience heartburn occasionally, but some have more frequent or serious heartburn symptoms. Their frequency and severity will dictate with heartburn treatments are appropriate. Different options work in different ways, and you will likely need a combination of approaches.

A few ways to treat heartburn include:

  • Changing your diet and lifestyle (e.g., quitting smoking, losing weight, avoiding trigger foods)
  • Taking OTC heartburn medications (e.g., Mylanta, Tums, Pepcid, Nexium)
  • Getting a prescription-strength heartburn treatment (e.g., Prilosec, Prevacid)
  • Using natural antacids (e.g., baking soda, aloe vera)

This article discusses heartburn treatments, including home remedies, lifestyle changes, over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, and complementary therapies.

Diet and Lifestyle Changes

The best heartburn treatment may not be a medical treatment at all. You can alleviate heartburn by avoiding food that causes heartburn and making other lifestyle choices that can minimize heartburn symptoms.

The following tips can help to relieve occasional heartburn.

Lifestyle changes that minimize heartburn

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Don't Smoke

Nicotine in cigarette smoke relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter. Smoking also stimulates the production of stomach acid. If you suffer from heartburn, stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke as well.

Lose Weight if Overweight

Being overweight or obese places pressure on the abdomen and increases the risk of heartburn. Heartburn is one of many reasons to aim for a healthy body mass index (BMI) of 30 or lower.

It also helps to loosen the waistband if you have regular heartburn. Anything that compresses the abdomen can directly affect the function of the esophagus. Opt instead for loose-fitting clothes when occasional heartburn strikes.

Avoid Food Triggers

Some common heartburn triggers can be avoided in the following ways:

  • Limit alcohol. Alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle. Drinking alcohol can also cause excessive eating, which contributes to heartburn.
  • Avoid foods that affect the LES. These include chocolate, peppermint, caffeinated drinks, carbonated beverages, alcohol, fatty foods, and greasy or fried foods.
  • Avoid irritating foods. These include citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes and tomato-based products, chili peppers, and black pepper.

Create a heartburn-friendly diet by keeping a food diary to record which foods are safe for you and which are more likely to trigger heartburn.

What Is the LES?

The lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, is a band of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus. It normally acts like a trap door that lets food and drink in but keeps stomach acid from bubbling out. Heartburn occurs when the LES is not functioning properly.

Adjust Your Eating Habits

Beyond what you eat and drink, how and when you eat can also trigger heartburn symptoms. To avoid this:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals: Eating five or six smaller meals may be easier on the stomach than three larger ones.
  • Don't eat quickly: A handy trick is to put your fork or spoon down between bites.
  • Avoid lying down after eating: Wait for at least two to three hours, ensuring your head and chest are elevated above the stomach.
  • Avoid late-night snacking: Again, don't eat within two to three hours of going to bed to avoid nighttime heartburn.
  • Chew gum: Chewing gum or sucking on a lozenge after a meal stimulates the production of saliva, which is alkaline, and may help counteract stomach acids.
  • Sip herbal tea: Sipping herbal tea can dilute and flush stomach acids from the esophagus. However, avoid caffeinated tea.

Adjust Your Sleep Habits

Nearly 80% of people with heartburn experience heartburn at night. Besides avoiding food before bedtime, there are ways to avoid nocturnal acid reflux:

  • Sleep with your head elevated. Lying flat allows stomach acids to seep through the LES. Elevating the head with an extra pillow or a special wedge-shaped pillow makes reflux less likely to occur.
  • Lie on your left side. Doing so reduces the likelihood of reflux by elevating the LES.
  • Wear loose-fitting pajamas. The less pressure you place on the abdomen, the better.

Heartburn Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

Over-the-Counter Heartburn Treatments

There are several over-the-counter (OTC) remedies for heartburn, some of which were only available by prescription a few years ago. These include antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors.

Antacid Medications

Antacids are commonly used to treat heartburn. They help relieve occasional heartburn and indigestion by neutralizing stomach acids.

Antacids are sold under the following brand names, each of which has slightly different formulations and/or ingredients:

  • Tums: Tums contain calcium carbonate, which tends to be stronger and work longer than some antacid ingredients. Calcium carbonate may also increase esophageal motility (movement), limiting the amount of acid that enters the esophagus.
  • Rolaids: Rolaids contain calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide. It is available in different strengths (including Extra-Strength and Ultra-Strength) as well as in different forms (such as soft chews and liquid).
  • Mylanta: Mylanta contains aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide. Mylanta Ultra, available in tablet, chewable, and gelcap forms, contains calcium carbonate.
  • Gaviscon: Gaviscon contains alginic acid and sodium bicarbonate in addition to aluminum hydroxide and magnesium carbonate. The combination creates a gel-like barrier that literally floats on the stomach acid, reducing the amount that enters the LES.
  • Chooz: This is a sugar-free gum with calcium carbonate as the active ingredient.

Antacids can interfere with the absorption of certain drugs, including HIV medications. Speak with your doctor before using antacids to ensure they do not interact with your other medications.

Pregnant people should not use antacids containing sodium bicarbonate or magnesium trisilicate as they can cause excessive fluid buildup and affect the development of the fetus.

H2 Blockers

H2 blockers, also known as H2-receptor antagonists, are medicines that reduce stomach acid. They block a chemical called histamine-2 (H2) that stimulates acid-producing cells in the stomach.

H2 blockers are sold under the following brand names:

  • Axid (nizatidine)
  • Pepcid (famotidine)
  • Tagamet (cimetidine)

Side effects of this heartburn treatment are uncommon but may include headache, diarrhea, fatigue, and dizziness.

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI)

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are another heartburn treatment that blocks the production of stomach acid, albeit in a different way. They do so by shutting down a system known as the proton pump that is integral to the production of stomach acid.

Over-the-counter PPIs include:

  • Nexium 24H (esomeprazole)
  • Prilosec OTC (omeprazole)
  • Prevacid 24H (lansoprazole)
  • Zegerid OTC (omeprazole/sodium bicarbonate)

PPIs are generally taken for two weeks and should not be used for an extended period of time.

Side effects include headache, diarrhea, constipation, stomach upset, cough, hoarseness, nausea, and vomiting.

Prescription Heartburn Treatments

If OTC medications and lifestyle changes fail to control heartburn, your doctor may recommend prescription versions of H2 blockers and PPIs.

Prescription H2 Blockers

Besides the OTC-strength H2 blockers, there are versions of Axid (nizatidine), Pepcid (famotidine), and Tagamet (cimetidine) available by prescription, as well as an H2 blocker called Protonix (pantoprazole).

Prescription H2 blockers are generally more effective than their OTC version but are also more likely to cause side effects. These are intended for the short-term relief of severe heartburn only.

Prescription Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

Prescription PPIs are available under the following brand names:

Prescription PPIs are meant to be taken under a healthcare provider's supervision and only for a limited time. The chronic use of this heartburn treatment is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures, kidney disease, and heart attacks.

Natural Antacids

While some foods can spur acid, others can tamp it down. Some foods that can act as natural antacids include:

  • Bananas
  • Chamomile tea
  • Skim milk
  • Fat-free yogurt
  • Ginger and turmeric tea

The following complementary and alternative (CAM) options are also said to be natural antacids, although evidence supporting their use is limited:

  • Baking soda
  • Aloe vera
  • Deglycyrrhizinated licorice

Read more about what's known about them below, and speak with your doctor before using them to ensure that they are safe and don't interfere with any of the medications you are taking.

Baking Soda

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a natural antacid. Dissolving a teaspoon of baking soda into 8 ounces of water and drinking it may help neutralize stomach acid and temporarily ease heartburn. Side effects include burping and bloating.

Sodium bicarbonate may decrease the effectiveness of aspirin. It should also not be used in pregnant people due to the risk of abnormal fluid build-up.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera juice has been used in traditional medicine to treat esophageal irritation. While it is unwise to use unprocessed aloe vera (as it has potent laxative effects), some products are specially formulated for internal use.

This includes AloeCure, a formulated remedy containing organic processed aloe juice. Marketed as an all-natural remedy for digestive disorders, AloeCure was found to relieve heartburn in several smaller studies.

Aloe vera should be avoided in people on anti-diabetes medications as it can lower blood sugar and cause hypoglycemia. Aloe vera can also interact with blood thinners like Coumadin (warfarin) and Plavix (clopidogrel), increasing the risk of easy bruising and bleeding.

Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice is a natural remedy sometimes used to soothe heartburn and other digestive ailments.

On its own, licorice can raise blood pressure and cause undesirable side effects. By contrast, deglycyrrhizinated licorice has removed the ingredient responsible for this effect (called glycyrrhizic acid).

Some studies suggest that deglycyrrhizinated licorice (including a formulated product called GutGard) is useful in relieving occasional heartburn and indigestion.

Despite having few side effects, deglycyrrhizinated licorice can interact with diuretics, corticosteroids, or other medications that lower the body's potassium level. Taking them together can cause a potentially severe drop in blood potassium known as hypokalemia.

Summary

Occasional heartburn (acid reflux) can often be treated or prevented with lifestyle changes such as quitting cigarettes, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding food triggers, eating smaller meals, and sleeping on your left side or with your head elevated.

Over-the-counter antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) also relieve occasional heartburn. People with severe heartburn may require prescription H2 blockers or PPIs to control their symptoms. Medications like these are intended for short-term use only.

Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) like baking soda, aloe vera, and deglycyrrhizinated licorice have been used to treat occasional heartburn, but the evidence supporting their use is weak.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the quickest heartburn treatment?

    Over-the-counter antacids, like Tums, Mylanta, or Rolaids, work by neutralizing stomach acid and are a good option for rapid, short-term relief.

  • What should I take for heartburn during pregnancy?

    Try eating yogurt or drinking milk. Adding a tablespoon of honey into warm milk may also be helpful. Some antacids are not recommended during pregnancy, so speak with your healthcare provider before using one.

  • Does drinking milk help heartburn?

    Heartburn is caused by acid reflux, which can be triggered by fatty foods. Whole and 2% milk contain fat that can lead to acid reflux. Skim milk, on the other hand, is fat-free and may help to relieve heartburn.

  • Does water help heartburn?

    It can. Water dilutes stomach acid, which can make it less painful. But drink slowly, especially if your stomach is already full. Chugging water may initially cause more discomfort and strain the lower esophageal sphincter, ramping up heartburn.

  • How long does heartburn last?

    Heartburn may last anywhere from just a few minutes to several hours. For some, it's an occasional occurrence; for others, it may occur frequently. Make an appointment to see a doctor if you have heartburn more than twice weekly.

  • Are heartburn and GERD the same thing?

    Though heartburn is related to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the terms are not interchangeable. GERD is a more severe, chronic form of acid reflux, while heartburn is essentially a symptom of acid reflux and GERD.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. What to eat when you have chronic heartburn.

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for GER & GERD.

  4. Harmon RC, Peura DA. Evaluation and management of dyspepsia. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2010;3(2):87-98. doi:10.1177/1756283X09356590

  5. Kaiser Permanente. Nonprescription Antacids for Heartburn.

  6. Panahi Y, Khedmat H, Valizadegan G, Mohtashami R, Sahebkar A. Efficacy and safety of aloe vera syrup for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease: A pilot randomized positive-controlled trial. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2015;35(6):632-636. doi:10.1016/s0254-6272(15)30151-5.

  7. Raveendra KR, Jayachandra, Srivinivasa V, et al. An extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra (GutGard) alleviates symptoms of functional dyspepsia: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:216970. doi:10.1155/2012/216970

  8. Cleveland Clinic. Heartburn.

Additional Reading

By Sharon Gillson
 Sharon Gillson is a writer living with and covering GERD and other digestive issues.