Heartburn and acid reflux

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning sensation that is felt in your chest.

In some people, pain can sometimes spread up to the throat.

The discomfort is usually worse after eating when bending over or lying down.

graphic depicting hearburn

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux is where acid and sometimes stomach contents are brought back up into your throat and mouth.

It can cause an unpleasant, sour taste and/or a burning sensation at the back of your mouth.

graphic depicting acid reflux

If you have heartburn often, it is called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease or GORD.

Other symptoms of acid reflux can be:

A bloated stomach and burping or hiccupping  

Graphic showing feeling sick

Feeling or being sick, especially after meals  

Coughing, especially in the morning 

graphic showing bad teeth, tooth decay

You may have bad breath and get tooth decay and gum disease

Why is heartburn and acid reflux a risk factor for healthy lungs?

Heartburn and acid reflux can impact on your chest health.

Heartburn and acid reflux are more common in people with a learning disability and people with a physical disability.

An altered body shape, reduced mobility, and muscle spasms can make it more difficult for food and fluids to travel through your body and be digested. You can find out more in posture for eating and drinking section.

If you also have asthma, your symptoms may get worse because of the stomach acid irritating your airways.

If your stomach contents accidentally enter your lungs instead of being swallowed back into the stomach, this can increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia.

Causes of heartburn and acid reflux

Heartburn and acid reflux can sometimes be caused by:

graphic showing take away food like pizza and burgers

Certain food and drink such as coffee, alcohol, fatty or spicy food

graphic of someone who is overweight

Being overweight

man with thought bubble thinking about stopping smoking


Graphic of someone with head in hands feeling stressed

Stress and anxiety

graphic showing medications

Some medication

graphic showing a hiatus hernia pain in side near hip

A hiatus hernia

Things you can do to ease heartburn and acid reflux

  • Stop smoking
  • Eat small, more frequent meals      
  • Don’t eat food and drink that triggers your symptoms
  • Try to loose weight if you are overweight
  • Do not eat within 3 or 4 hours of going to bed   
  • Sleep with the head end of your bed elevated so that your head and chest are above the level of your waist
  • Find things that you enjoy that help you to relax

Getting help with heartburn and acid reflux

  • A pharmacist can help with heartburn and acid reflux
  • They may recommend medicines called antacids that can help with the symptoms
  • You should see your doctor if you have tried making changes to your diet and lifestyle but you do not feel any better
  • You have had heartburn most days for three weeks or more
  • You have other symptoms, like food getting stuck in your throat, frequently being sick or losing weight for no reason
  • Your GP can provide stronger treatments and rule out any more serious causes for your symptoms
  • If at any time you feel your symptoms are getting worse contact a GP or NHS 111
image of phone with phone 111 number on it