Almost everyone has already experienced it: a burning sensation behind the breastbone and sour belches. This is especially common after a greasy meal, after drinking alcohol or during major stress. Occasional complaints can be treated well with acid-binding agents. Some people react more quickly to stomach burning and heartburn than others. If you are one of those people, we have put together helpful tips for you to reduce the occurrence of these symptoms.
If you have frequent or severe symptoms, you should visit your doctor. Gastritis, a stomach ulcer or another illness may be behind the problem.
What is heartburn?
Our food enters the stomach after swallowing via the oesophagus. There, a strong acid ensures that germs are killed and the nourishment is released from our food. To fulfil this task, gastric juice is more acidic than lemon juice or vinegar. The mucous membrane of the stomach is protected from its own acid by a layer of mucus.
The situation is different with the oesophagus. This is more sensitive and can be attacked by stomach acid, causing burning pain. To prevent this, there is a sphincter muscle at the transition between the oesophagus and the stomach. Like a valve, it ensures that the acidic gastric juice remains in the stomach and does not damage the oesophagus. In some cases, however, the body's protective systems may be disturbed, resulting in stomach pain, stomach burning or heartburn.
Causes of Burning Stomach Pain and Heartburn
Occasional burning pain behind the breastbone, acidic belching and stomach pain are often related to the gastric juices from the stomach rising into the oesophagus (reflux). The causes for this may be an increased production of gastric acid or insufficient function of the sphincter muscle at the entrance to the stomach. There can be different triggers for this:
- Stress: mental pressure and stress lead to increased production of stomach acid.
- Pregnancy: changes in the hormone balance during pregnancy can lead to heartburn. In addition, the enlarged uterus presses on the stomach.
- Medication: some medications, including certain pain medications, can cause heartburn and stomach pain. If you are not sure whether this could be the case, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
- Obesity: more serious obesity promotes the occurrence of heartburn.
- Nutrition: high-fat and spicy foods, in particular, can cause or intensify heartburn. You can read more about this in the tips below.
- Drink and tobacco: caffeinated drinks, coffee, alcohol and nicotine can sometimes cause stomach ache and heartburn.
Symptoms and Consequences of Burning Stomach Pain and Heartburn
A burning pain behind the sternum is typical of heartburn and burning stomach pain. This is sometimes accompanied by acidic belching. In part, the symptoms occur after eating. Some people also have problems with heartburn especially at night. While gravity prevents the rising of gastric juice during the daytime, the acidity rises more easily while lying down. As a result, sometimes night-time sleep suffers significantly, which in turn limits performance during the day. The excessive acidification of the stomach can in some cases also lead to stomach ache, bloating and indigestion.
If heartburn occurs only occasionally, that is no cause for concern. However, if you have regular complaints, you should consult your doctor. Over time, the corrosive gastric juice can attack the mucosa of the oesophagus. In the worst case, bleeding or narrowing of the oesophagus is possible. If the acid rises to the mouth, teeth and gums can also be affected. Also, symptoms such as cough, bronchitis, sore throat and hoarseness are possible.
Treatment of Burning Stomach Pain and Heartburn
With occasional heartburn, remedies that help neutralise the excess acid help. If symptoms occur more frequently, a doctor can establish the cause and prescribe a suitable treatment.
Antacids: neutralising the acid
For occasional heartburn and burning stomach pain, antacids help. These are agents that bind excess stomach acid. Antacids contain mineral compounds (calcium carbonate and magnesium trisilicate), which have an acid-binding effect. Aluminium-containing antacids are best avoided. As a result, complaints are alleviated immediately and effectively.
Treatment by a Doctor
In case of severe stomach pain or recurrent heartburn, a more detailed examination may be required. Because gastritis or gastric ulcer may also be responsible for the symptoms. In this case, your doctor can test for the presence of the gastric bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which encourages a range of gastric problems.
Where you have regular and frequent hyperacidity of the stomach, antacids are sometimes not enough. The doctor can then prescribe drugs that reduce the production of stomach acid. These include H2-receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors. In addition, depending on the nature of the symptoms, remedies for nausea and cramps can also be used. In some cases, prokinetics also help. These cause the chyme – the food pulp – to pass through the stomach more quickly. Since all medications can have side effects, doctors try to avoid using them permanently. Therefore, in the long term it often makes sense to change to a stomach-friendly diet and lifestyle. For tips, see the next section of this article.
More Tips and Home Remedies for Burning Stomach Pain and Heartburn
A change in diet and lifestyle can contribute to symptoms such as burning stomach pain and heartburn not occurring. The following tips often help prevent and relieve symptoms without medication.
What does not help
In the past, milk or soda was often recommended to neutralise excess acid. Today, however, we know that milk even aggravates the symptoms in some people. Soda leads to the formation of carbon dioxide, which can lead to belching and wind. For quick neutralisation of excess stomach acid you are better off, therefore, using precisely dosed and matched preparations.
Tips Against Heartburn
- For night-time heartburn, keeping your upper body elevated can help. Or try to lie on your left side. Then the stomach is a bit lower than if you sleep on your back or on your right side.
- In the long term, regular exercise and normal body weight help keep your digestion going and prevent stomach ache.
- Avoid "acid releasers" such as alcohol, smoking, very fatty food, coffee or carbonated drinks. In some people, acidic drinks (juice), as well as sweet or spicy foods, also contribute to the symptoms.
- Wear loose clothing that does not constrict your stomach.
- You are better off eating several smaller portions than a few large ones. Some bites of bread, rusk or oatmeal can bind the acid in between meals.
- Chewing gum provides quick relief from mild discomfort. The increased production of saliva dilutes the acid and flushes it from the oesophagus into the stomach.
- If you suffer from stress-related burning stomach pain or heartburn, then relaxation exercises such as autogenic training may be helpful.
- Chamomile tea or tea with fennel or cumin can have a soothing effect on mild symptoms.