Heartburn causes & characteristics

Heartburn or sometimes referred to as acid reflux, is a common symptom that affects many people. It occurs when acid, which normally resides in the stomach escapes back up into the oesophagus (food pipe). Because the oesophagus is not as well protected as the stomach the acid can irritate the lining. Which can cause painful feelings that can last for a few minutes or a few hours.



The characteristics of heartburn (acid reflux) are generally described as a kind of tightening or burning sensation in the back of the throat and chest area (usually behind the breastbone). Some people also experience a bitter or acidic taste in the back of the throat and feeling of sickness.


Heartburn and indigestion can tend to have similar triggers.


The Way You Eat
  • Eating large meals can cause your stomach to produce too much acid. Physically 'overfilling' the stomach can also create pressure and cause acid to escape.
  • Eating irregularly or too quickly can cause limited time for regulation of acid levels in the stomach.
  • Eating on the run or just before bedtime can make it easier for acid to escape back up into the oesophagus (food pipe).

The Types of Food You Eat
  • Fatty foods tend to stay in your stomach for longer because fats are slower to digest.
  • Foods such as chocolate and mint may have a relaxant effect on the sphincter (ring of muscle) at the entrance to the stomach enabling acid to escape back up.
  • Spicy foods, onions and tomato products may increase incidence of heartburn.

The Types of Drinks You Drink
  • Caffeinated drinks and alcohol tend to increase acidity in your stomach.
  • Extremely hot drinks and citrus juices may also be triggers.

  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy.
  • The baby physically putting pressure on the woman's digestive tract.
  • Find out more

Other known triggers include
  • Stress.
  • Some medicines, such as those for heart problems, asthma and high blood pressure.
  • Being overweight.
  • Wearing tight clothes which can put pressure on your stomach.
  • Smoking can encourage acid production and cause the sphincter to relax.

Many people can identify the triggers for their symptoms and take action accordingly, but if you are suffering regularly, or have any concerns, consult your GP.

Did you know?

  • There is an increasing trend of heartburn incidence in Asia1
  • Ethnic Chinese heartburn sufferers have 5.8 times higher chances of experiencing other stomach discomfort*2.
    *Indicates acid feeling in the stomach. 
    1. Jung HK. J Neurogastroenterol Motil, 2011; 17:14-17. 
    2. Wong WM, et al. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2003; 18: 595-604.