8 Tips for How to Prevent Heartburn

Whether you have an occasional burning feeling in your chest or discomfort that happens more often, you likely want to know all there is to know about how to prevent heartburn. The pain, difficulty swallowing, and bad taste it can cause can be more than hard to ignore. Heartburn symptoms can last minutes to hours and effect your quality of life.

Preventing heartburn entirely may not be possible. But there are how-to tips—adjusting your diet, reducing stress, avoiding smoking, and more—that can help your efforts and lessen your symptoms.

Here are eight suggestions on how to prevent heartburn that your healthcare provider is likely to encourage.

how to prevent heartburn

Verywell​ / JR Bee

Avoid Smoking and Smoke Exposure

Smoking leads to more heartburn in several ways:

  • Smoking reduces saliva production, giving you less of this naturally alkaline fluid to help neutralize stomach acid.
  • Smoking can weaken and relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve at the junction between the esophagus and stomach. If the LES isn't working properly or relaxes inappropriately, stomach acid and food can reflux back up into the esophagus. This can irritate the esophagus, causing heartburn.
  • Smokers are prone to coughing, which increases abdominal pressure and can lead to heartburn.

Exposure to secondhand smoke is also linked to heartburn, so you should avoid places where people smoke.

Modify What You Eat and Drink

What you eat and drink, as well as the timing, may trigger heartburn. Some culprits are common, while others only affect some individuals.

How and When You Eat

The LES tends to relax when you lie down, and a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the LES.

Reasons for why you get heartburn at night include the fact that your digestive system slows down when you sleep. The food in your stomach stays there longer at the same time that you're lying down in a prime position for food to be refluxed.

With this in mind:

  • Try eating six smaller meals each day instead of three larger ones. Or you can try having your larger meal earlier in the day and a light meal for supper.
  • Avoid late-night snacking.
  • Eat while sitting upright and remain upright (sitting or standing) for 45 minutes to an hour after eating.
  • Don't lie down or go to bed for two to three hours after eating.

Drinking water may help with heartburn because it aids with digestion. However, drinking too much water at one time increases the volume of stomach contents and can worsen heartburn symptoms.

It is better to drink smaller amounts throughout the day rather than large amounts less often. Another trick is to drink a glass of lukewarm water or decaffeinated tea after a meal to dilute and flush out stomach acid.

Chewing gum after a meal can also help prevent heartburn. It stimulates saliva, which acts to buffer stomach acid while bathing the throat to protect it.

Foods That Trigger Heartburn

Certain foods can trigger heartburn symptoms in many people, and it's best for people with chronic heartburn to limit or completely avoid foods and beverages that may contribute to their symptoms.

Though everyone is different, here is a list of the most problematic foods for people with heartburn:

  • Deep-fried foods are one of the major triggers of heartburn and acid reflux. French fries, fried chicken, blooming onions, and other oil-drenched foods are hard to digest and can increase your chances of having a heartburn episode.
  • Fatty foods slow digestion. The longer you have food lingering in your stomach, the more likely you will feel heartburn. Steer clear of highly fatty foods and meals like cheesy casseroles, pizza, and desserts. Marbled cuts of meat, the skin of poultry, and creamy sauces could also pose a problem for heartburn.
  • Acidic foods like citrus fruits can increase heartburn. Avoid oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and their juices.
  • Tomatoes and tomato products (tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato juice) can trigger heartburn. Foods that combine several heartburn offenders, such as pizza (tomato sauce and fatty cheese) or lasagna (tomato sauce, cheese, and meat) can be particularly problematic for people prone to heartburn.
  • Coffee has two strikes against it when it comes to heartburn. Caffeine can stimulate acid, plus coffee is an acidic beverage. You may find you can tolerate decaf, but you may have to cut out coffee altogether to see if that helps reduce heartburn episodes.
  • Chocolate can prevent the LES from fully closing, which then causes stomach acid to creep up into the esophagus, causing heartburn.
  • Peppermint relaxes the LES. While peppermint tea might seem like a soothing remedy for heartburn, it can make it worse.
  • Spicy foods are another trigger for heartburn, as they can irritate the esophagus. Get to know your spice threshold.

Foods Safe for Heartburn

When eating out or cooking at home, consider having these foods that are less likely to trigger heartburn:

  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Sandwiches with turkey, chicken, or roast beef on whole-grain bread
  • Grilled or roasted foods
  • Broth-based soups
  • Steamed or raw vegetables
  • Baked potatoes topped with low-fat salad dressing
  • Salads with lean protein and low-fat or no-fat salad dressings (but not citrus-based)

Alcohol Consumption

Alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and distilled spirits, can trigger heartburn. Alcohol increases the amount of acid the stomach produces and relaxes the LES.

For some people, an occasional alcoholic drink doesn't cause reflux. For others, even a small drink will result in heartburn.

Keep track of which alcoholic drinks aggravate your heartburn and avoid them as much as possible. In particular, be mindful of cocktails that include acidic mixers, like orange juice.

Manage Your Weight

Whether due to belly fat or being pregnant, excess weight on the abdomen increases abdominal pressure, which can push stomach contents up into the esophagus.

Since eating smaller meals seems to help with heartburn, reducing your portion size can have a double benefit if you want to lose weight.

For many people, as little as a 10% decrease in weight will improve their heartburn symptoms.

Wear Loose Clothing

Don't wear belts, slenderizing undergarments, or clothes that are tight-fitting around the waist. These items can squeeze the stomach, force food up against the LES, and cause reflux and heartburn.

Check Your Medications

Viagra (sildenafil) and other medications may be linked to heartburn and GERD. These drugs are used to treat a wide range of conditions.

Some of these medications include:

  • Asthma medications
  • Calcium channel blockers used to treat high blood pressure
  • Antihistamines used to treat allergy symptoms
  • Pain-relief medications
  • Sedatives
  • Antidepressants

Talk to your healthcare provider about any prescriptions, over-the-counter products, and supplements you are taking. Your healthcare provider may be able to change the schedule of your medications to help reduce the effects.

Also, if you take a medication to prevent heartburn, there may be a better time to take it if you have nighttime heartburn.

Never stop taking a medication without first speaking with your healthcare provider.

Exercise Wisely

Exercise is still an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, so use these tips to stay active without triggering your heartburn:

  • Wait at least an hour after eating before you begin to exercise or exert yourself.
  • Avoid the food and drink heartburn triggers before exercise in particular.
  • Choose your exercise based on your personal tolerance level. Higher-impact activities, such as running or jogging, may increase your chances of getting heartburn compared to lower-impact activities, such as walking, biking, or swimming.

Keep Stress in Check

More than half of people who have frequent heartburn say a hectic lifestyle and work-related stress increases their symptoms. While stress hasn't been linked to heartburn directly, it is known that it can lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn.

During stressful times, routines are disrupted and people may not follow their normal ways of making meals, exercising, and taking medication. It is important to find ways to alleviate the stress and, thus, make stress-related heartburn less likely.

Some ideas include:

  • Exercising regularly to lower stress
  • Getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Taking a quick mental break to relax, thinking of a pleasant place or situation

Change Nighttime Habits

Nighttime heartburn is a common problem, including during pregnancy. In addition to not eating within two to three hours of bedtime, you can:

  • Sleep with your head and shoulders elevated. Raise the head of the bed 6 to 8 inches using blocks of wood or risers. You could also use a foam wedge or a sleeping wedge pillow. You shouldn't simply use extra pillows as you can create a bend at your waist rather than a slope, increasing the pressure on the stomach.
  • Sleep on your left side. This position aids digestion and helps with the removal of stomach acid.
  • Make sure your pajamas are loose-fitting.

Also, take an antacid when heartburn hits. Antacids will work very quickly on heartburn you may be experiencing before you go to bed.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you're getting heartburn every day, it is frequent enough to upset your daily life, or you are taking an antacid more than once or twice a week, have your symptoms evaluated by your healthcare provider. Chronic heartburn is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and some other digestive disorders.

Untreated or under-treated acid reflux may lead to complications, including esophageal cancer. Your healthcare provider can prescribe a treatment for heartburn or acid reflux that can reduce these risks.

If you are prescribed medication for heartburn, be sure to take your medication at the same time every day. If you are prone to forgetting, set an alarm to remind you or take your medication when you do another daily activity that you don't forget doing, such as brushing your teeth or washing your face.

Log Your Symptoms

Record what triggers your acid reflux episodes, the severity of each episode, how your body reacts, and what gives you relief. Then take this information to your healthcare provider. The information can help them determine what treatments and modifications will give you maximum relief.

Heartburn Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

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

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you prevent heartburn during pregnancy?

    Lifestyle changes, like eating smaller meals and sleeping with your head and shoulders elevated, are a start. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking medication. Some may have sodium bicarbonate or other elements that aren't safe during pregnancy.

  • What can you drink to relieve heartburn?

    Ginger tea may ease irritation in the stomach. Skim or low-fat milk can help to neutralize stomach acid, but avoid whole milk—the fat it contains can increase acid reflux. Water with a small amount of lemon juice and honey may also help to neutralize stomach acid.

16 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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Additional Reading

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