How Long Does Heartburn Last?

Heartburn isn’t considered a medical condition; rather, it is a symptom that can occur from medical health conditions such as:

Heartburn symptoms—including a burning sensation in the middle of the chest—can last between a few minutes and a few hours. The condition is commonly treated with over-the-counter medications such as antacids.

heartburn symptoms


How Long Heartburn Lasts

Heartburn can last anywhere from several minutes to a few hours, depending on the underlying cause.

For example, after eating a spicy meal, mild heartburn can last for as long as it takes to digest the food; but the symptoms may reoccur a few hours after you’ve eaten, when you lie down in bed at night or when bending over.

Bending over allows gravity to help pull the acid from the stomach, potentiating the severity of heartburn symptoms. The symptoms often awaken a person during the night, while sleeping.

Occasional heartburn goes away on its own and can often be prevented by avoiding certain foods (such as fried, greasy, fatty, or spicy foods). But when heartburn is severe, it usually requires medical treatment.

Severity of Heartburn

If you have heartburn due to GERD, it’s important to understand that GERD is a progressive disease involving several stages from mild to severe (including a cancerous or precancerous stage). The severity and frequency of the four stages include:

Stage 1: Mild GERD

Mild heartburn and other symptoms are experienced as infrequently as once or twice each month. Over-the-counter medications are effective enough to control symptoms.

Stage 2: Moderate GERD

Heartburn and other symptoms of GERD occur more frequently (such as once every week). When untreated, they interfere with a person’s daily activities and cause inflammation of the esophagus. Prescription medications are required.

Stage 3: Severe GERD

Heartburn and other symptoms are poorly controlled by prescription medications, and symptoms significantly impact a person’s quality of life. A surgical procedure may be required to effectively treat the symptoms.

Stage 4: Reflux-induced precancerous lesions or esophageal cancer

Stage 4 is the result of untreated severe GERD. Medical intervention and management of symptoms by an experienced healthcare provider are often required at this late stage of GERD.

When to See a Doctor

Untreated heartburn could even lead to serious conditions such as Barrett’s esophagus—a rare condition that can develop in the setting of long-standing GERD—which could be a precursor to cancer. It’s important to seek a consultation with a healthcare provider when experiencing the following:

  • Heartburn that does not subside
  • Heartburn that worsens
  • Difficulty swallowing (or pain when swallowing)
  • Heartburn that causes vomiting
  • A substantial, unexplained level of weight loss
  • Heartburn symptoms that persist even after taking over-the-counter antacids for more than two weeks (or for longer than recommended on the label)
  • Heartburn symptoms that persist even after taking prescription medications
  • Severe hoarseness or wheezing
  • Discomfort from heartburn that interferes with daily activities

Treatment

Depending on the severity of your heartburn symptoms, medications and levels of treatment vary.

Over-the-Counter Treatment

Over-the-counter treatment for heartburn includes:

  • Antacids: These work by lowering the amount of stomach acid. Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, and Gaviscon are examples of antacids.
  • Acid blockers: These work by lowering stomach acid, thus relieving heartburn. Pepcid AC and Tagamet HB are examples of acid blockers.

Antacid Warning

Avoid taking antacids if you have any symptoms of appendicitis or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Some antacids are contraindicated when a person has these conditions.  

Prescription Medication

Common prescription medications for heartburn include proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and lansoprazole (Prevacid). Most people who have GERD need to take PPIs because over-the-counter medications are ineffective.

It’s important to understand that PPIs have may have some risks. The safety of PPIs has been linked with the dosage and duration of administration.

Some experts report that PPIs are usually considered safe if taking the lowest dosage possible for a short period. However, the potential risks of PPI therapy need to be weighed against the risks of untreated GERD.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle habits often play an integral role in the development as well as the severity of heartburn. Factors that can contribute to conditions known to be linked with heartburn (such as hiatal hernia or GERD) include:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • High stress levels
  • Tight-fitting clothing and belts
  • Diet (eating large portions, fatty meals, spicy foods, and eating close to bedtime)

A Word From Verywell

Heartburn can happen to anyone and is generally not cause for concern. If you find yourself experiencing prolonged heartburn, speak with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause so you can work toward getting some relief.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Heartburn. Updated January 22, 2020.

  2. Harvard Health. What does heartburn feel like? Updated May 2019.

  3. Houston Heartburn and Reflux Center. 4 stages of GERD.

  4. MedlinePlus. Taking antacids. April 2, 2021.

  5. Abbas MK, Zaidi ARZ, Robert CA, Thiha S, Malik BH. The safety of long-term daily usage of a proton pump inhibitor: a literature review. Cureus. Published online September 4, 2019. doi:10.7759/cureus.5563