FAQS About Heartburn

What causes it and how you can help prevent it.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn occurs when stomach acids reflux, or flow up, into the esophagus. Prilosec OTC® is only indicated for the treatment of frequent heartburn. If you think you may have any of the symptoms described below, please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.

What is the difference between heartburn and frequent heartburn?

Frequent heartburn is defined as heartburn occurring two or more days a week. Prilosec OTC is formulated for frequent heartburn.

Why do stomach juices irritate the esophagus?

These juices, which are produced by the stomach to help the body break down food, contain a powerful acid called hydrochloric acid. While the stomach is naturally protected from this potent acid, the esophagus does not share the same protective qualities as the stomach. So, if acidic stomach contents come into contact with the esophagus, the esophagus’ skin-like lining can be irritated or injured and result in the sensation known as heartburn.

What causes heartburn?

Heartburn is caused when stomach acid enters the esophagus. When functioning normally, the LES [Lower Esophageal Sphincter] opens like a one-way valve that allows food into the stomach, but does not let it out the same way. However, at times the LES relaxes and allows stomach juices to flow upward into the esophagus. This relaxation exposes the esophagus to harsh acid from the stomach. Physicians refer to this as gastroesophageal reflux.

What is GERD?

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is chronic, persistent heartburn, and results from the improper working of the ring of muscle that normally keeps food and acids inside the stomach. When this muscle doesn't work correctly, it allows acids to back up into the esophagus. Other signs of GERD include: regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, coughing, hoarseness, and a lump feeling in your throat. In some instances, these ailments surface even when heartburn's usual symptoms are absent. This can lead patients to misunderstand these conditions because people with ear, nose, and throat (ENT) complaints often do not have heartburn symptoms. Prilosec OTC is only indicated for the treatment of frequent heartburn. If you think you may have GERD, please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about having a diagnostic screening test.

What is the difference between heartburn and acid reflux?

Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a chronic condition that causes a person’s liquid stomach contents—stomach acids, pepsin, and bile—to back up into the esophagus. Heartburn is the result of this action, but heartburn may also be a sign that some other trigger is at work. Just because you have heartburn, it does not necessarily mean that you have acid reflux. Acid reflux is a chronic condition characterized by irritation or inflammation of the esophagus. Some of the common symptoms of acid reflux include: chronic, persistent heartburn; regurgitation; drastic weight loss; discomfort and difficulty swallowing; coughing often; severe hoarseness or wheezing; a feeling of a lump in the throat; and interference with lifestyle or daily activities. If you think you may have this condition, speak with your healthcare professional about a diagnostic screening test. If left untreated, acid reflux can cause or contribute to a range of more serious health issues, such as ulcers of the esophagus and chronic coughing.

What is esophagitis?

When stomach acids repeatedly back up into the esophagus, they can injure the esophagus’ sensitive lining. That injury can lead to uncomfortable inflammation called esophagitis. Eventually, the acid wears away at the esophagus, causing bleeding. If the bleeding is heavy enough, blood can pass into the digestive tract and show up as dark, tarry stools. Esophagitis can cause ulcers—sensitive, open sores on the lining of the esophagus. In a small percentage of people, long-term acid exposure from GERD leads to a condition called Barrett's esophagus (BE). In BE, new cells form to take the place of those damaged by acid reflux.

Are heartburn at day and heartburn at night different conditions?

Both heartburn at day and heartburn at night result from stomach acid reflux. However, lying horizontally to sleep at night makes it more likely you will experience more stomach acid reflux than when sitting up or standing.

What are some common treatments for heartburn?

Antacids: Antacids neutralize the acid in your stomach. Antacids are commonly taken after you eat or when pain begins. Antacids provide immediate, temporary relief.

H2 Blockers: H2 blockers relieve heartburn symptoms by reducing acid production. They begin working within an hour and can last for 12 hours. H2 blockers begin working relatively quickly, but may not block heartburn as long with a single pill when compared to PPIs.

Proton Pump Inhibitors: When you eat, millions of tiny pumps in your stomach produce acid to break down food. Heartburn occurs when these excess acids reflux into your esophagus. PPIs (such as Prilosec OTC) work by directly blocking many of these pumps. A PPI may take one to four days for full effect, but it can effectively block frequent heartburn for 24 hours with just one pill a day for 14 days.

Are there certain foods that cause heartburn?

Yes, there are common foods and lifestyle factors that cause heartburn to flare up, and these are known as heartburn triggers. Paying attention to your body and how it reacts to these triggers helps you make smart choices:

  • Citrus fruits

  • Spicy foods

  • Chocolate

  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Fatty foods

  • Tomatoes or tomato-based products

  • Peppermints

  • Black pepper

  • Vinegar

  • Caffeinated or carbonated beverages

  • Alcoholic beverages

Are there steps I can take to fight frequent heartburn?

Yes. There are several lifestyle choices, all of which contribute to reduce the chance of frequent heartburn.

Reduce stress: Stress can contribute to heartburn and make you more likely to overeat. Make time for yourself, prioritize responsibilities, and try to keep things in perspective to reduce stress in your life.

Exercise regularly: 
It will help you manage stress and keep you healthier overall. Exercising also helps you sleep better. Talk to your doctor before you start any exercise program.

Control portions: 
Decrease the size of portions at mealtimes. Your stomach won't need to produce as much acid as with a big meal, and less acid means less chance of acid reflux.

Stop smoking:
 Smoking relaxes the valve at the top of your stomach, allowing excess stomach acid to reflux into your esophagus.

Do I have to give up everything I love to control my heartburn?

With good advice from your healthcare professional, you should be able to develop a healthy plan to help control your heartburn. A healthy plan will let you keep eating the foods you love and continue doing your usual activities. Given the many recent advancements in our understanding and treatment of heartburn, even the most severe heartburn sufferers generally find that they can control their heartburn through heartburn medications and some simple lifestyle changes.

What does heartburn have to do with heat?

Many heartburn sufferers experience the burning sensation known as heartburn and associate the discomfort with intense heat. However, the discomfort is not caused by temperature but by the irritation resulting from the presence of acid in the esophagus.

How does stress contribute to heartburn?

Gastrointestinal symptoms have long been associated with stress, fear, and anxiety. The perception of heartburn can increase during stress. Numerous clinical studies confirm the correlation between stress and heartburn.

Stress also can contribute to reflux by causing heartburn sufferers to engage in behaviors that trigger acid production (i.e., turning to high-fat comfort foods, smoking, drinking caffeine, or eating late at night). Stressful life events (anxiety, tension, and stress) can increase sensitivity to refluxed acid, reducing the threshold for pain and increasing the frequency and/or severity of heartburn symptoms. In addition, stress may increase a person's sensitivity to the pain caused by a heartburn episode.

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