Heartburn occurs when stomach acids well up back into the esophagus, causing pain in the middle of the chest. There is a muscle called the sphincter located at the base of the esophagus which is designed to prevent acids from leaking back from the stomach. If that sphincter does not function well or properly then 'acid reflux' occurs and you get that familiar burning sensation at the front of your chest.
There are many things about your diet and lifestyle that can contribute to the problem; the good news is that because diet and lifestyle are a part of the problem, changes to both can bring relief from most symptoms.
Potential Causes of Heartburn
One of the first lifestyle choices that can be a contributing factor is smoking. The chemicals in cigarette smoke actually weaken the sphincter, making it easier for acids to pass back through. If you are a smoker, you may get relief from your heartburn by quitting smoking. Another cause is eating large meals. If you suffer from regular or chronic heartburn, try eating smaller meals more frequently to alleviate that full feeling in your stomach.
Wearing tight fitting clothing, especially around the waist, is another familiar cause of heartburn. Switching to looser fitting clothing should see an improvement.
Finally, eating too close to bedtime will often result in problems while you are sleeping, frequently enough to cause you to wake up with that really uncomfortable chest pain again. Try to eat your last meal of the day at least three hours before retiring - five hours is even better. If you find you are still waking up with the pain, you can raise the head of your bed above the foot by about six inches, so that you are not lying completely flat while you sleep.
If none of these lifestyle changes seem to help relieve the heartburn you are experiencing, it may be time to move on to dietary changes.
Dietary Causes of Heartburn
There are some common causes of heartburn in the average diet that are worth trying to eliminate first to see if that brings relief. For example, fatty and fried foods, caffeine, chocolate and alcohol are amongst many causes of recurring heartburn because they cause the sphincter muscle to relax and will allow stomach acid to return into the esophagus. Other dietary choices best avoided are citrus fruits and juices, and tomato products. If avoiding these doesn't help, you can try keeping a food diary for several days to see if you can pinpoint which specific foods are causing the problem.
Recurrent heartburn is rarely serious, but it can be difficult to cope with the constant pain. By identifying the causes you can avoid those things in your diet or lifestyle that are contributing to your pain and discomfort.