Why You’re Waking Up With Heartburn and How to Make It Stop

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Heartburn can be extremely uncomfortable. When a person experiences heartburn, they may feel a burning sensation in the chest. They may also feel a similar sensation in the neck and throat, along with having a bitter taste in the mouth.

Heartburn is a symptom of several conditions including:

If you have GERD, heartburn is common—known to affect a third of all U.S. adults each week. Many people experience heartburn at night, and they can also experience the condition when waking up in the morning.

Morning heartburn is nicknamed “riser’s reflux.” The good news is, there are ways to prevent and treat it.

woman with heartburn

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Morning Heartburn

Morning heartburn is a common occurrence, especially for people with GERD. A study concluded that out of thirty-nine people, nineteen experienced acid reflux events within the first twenty minutes after waking up in the morning.

Some of the symptoms of heartburn include:

  • Pain in the chest when you lie down or bend over
  • A hot, acidic, salty, or sour taste in the back of the throat
  • A burning feeling in the throat
  • A burning feeling in the chest that ranges from a few minutes to a few hours

Along with these symptoms, people who have GERD may also experience:

  • Nausea
  • Chest pains
  • Pain and difficulty swallowing
  • Chronic cough or hoarseness

Treatment

Morning heartburn can be treated several ways, including:

  • Avoiding certain foods
  • Taking medication
  • Changing lifestyle habits
  • Possibly having surgery

Understand that certain foods and movements can trigger heartburn to come back once it has been treated.

Some treatments include over-the-counter or prescription medications, such as:

  • H2 blocker: This medication is known to reduce the amount of acid that the stomach produces. It is also known to heal the esophagus. H2 blockers can be prescribed by your doctor or bought over the counter.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs are known to be better at treating GERD symptoms. They also heal the esophageal lining in people who have GERD. This medication can be bought over the counter or prescribed by a doctor. If a person receives long-term GERD treatment, the doctor may prescribe PPIs. It is important to talk with your doctor regarding the risks; they can help you make the best decision for your condition.
  • Antacids: This medication is most common and recommended to relieve mild heartburn and mild GERD. Antacids are available over the counter. Although they are the most common, they should not be used for severe symptoms or every day. The side effects include diarrhea or constipation.

If the medications and lifestyle changes don’t help your GERD symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Other Causes of Morning Heartburn

Although GERD is a common reason for heartburn in the morning, there are other reasons that someone can experience heartburn during this time. Some factors include your activities the night before and lifestyle habits. Other factors include:

  • Having a high stress level
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Wearing tight clothes and belts
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain medications, especially anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin

Prevention

To reduce the symptoms of heartburn, lifestyle changes can make a difference. These include:

  • Elevating your head during sleep
  • Eating meals three hours prior to going to sleep
  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Changing diet and eating habits

Talk to your doctor regarding options and changes that you can make to help your condition.

Another way to reduce the symptoms of morning heartburn is to avoid foods and beverages that may increase heartburn symptoms. Some of these include:

  • Spicy foods
  • High-fat foods
  • Coffee and other sources of caffeine
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus
  • Onions
  • Alcoholic beverages

Your doctor can help you create a list of foods to remove and incorporate into your diet that will help treat your GERD symptoms. It is important to work with your doctor, continuing to take your medicine—if prescribed—and following a plan that will help you have the best outcome regarding your condition.

When to See a Doctor

If heartburn becomes chronic, it can lead to respiratory problems, inflammation, and narrowing of the esophagus.

If you have symptoms that include the following, you should contact your doctor.

  • The heartburn won’t go away.
  • You have serious wheezing.
  • The symptoms of heartburn are more frequent and severe.
  • You have consistent hoarseness.
  • There is unexpected weight loss.
  • You have been taking over-the-counter antacids for more than two weeks, and you still have heartburn symptoms.
  • Vomiting occurs because of heartburn.
  • Prescription medicine doesn’t relieve heartburn.

It is important to keep in contact with your doctor about your symptoms and progress. They can help you with any questions and concerns related to your specific condition.

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Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Heartburn. Updated January 22, 2020.

  2. Poh C, Allen l, Malagon I et al. Riser’s reflux - an eye-opening experience. Neurogastroenterology &Motility. 2010;22(4):387-394. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2982.2009.01446.x

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Symptoms and causes of GER & GERD. Updated July 2020.