You don't have to have GERD to be bugged by heartburn. Here are some home remedies to put out that fire and keep it from flaring up again.
Block the problem. Acid in your stomach helps digest food, but your body makes much more than it needs. Shutting down production of this stinging stuff means there will be less of it swishing around in your stomach, just waiting to wash upward and burn your esophagus. Pharmacies sell low-dose, over-the-counter (OTC) versions of medications that block stomach acid from forming. (The higher doses of these drugs are available only by prescription.) These so-called H2 (or histamine) blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet HB) and ranitidine (Zantac 75), seem to help about half of heartburn sufferers.
Medications called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are even more effective at reducing acid. Most of these drugs require a prescription, however. And even though one PPI, omeprazole (Prilosec), is available OTC, most gastroenterologists recommend patients undergo endoscopy (a diagnostic procedure in which a lighted, flexible tube is inserted through the mouth and down the throat to visualize the upper gastrointestinal tract) before beginning treatment with a PPI.
Take an antacid. Over-the-counter antacids in tablet or liquid form can help cool the burn. Take a dose about every six hours as needed. Don't overdo it, though, because too much antacid can cause constipation or diarrhea.
Don't forget your bedtime dose. Even if you forget to take an antacid during the day, you should try to remember to take one at bedtime if you suffer from frequent heartburn. You need to protect your esophagus from the pooling of stomach acids that commonly occurs at night, when you are horizontal for hours on end. Heartburn that occurs during the night causes more damage than daytime heartburn.
Keep your head up. Another way to protect your esophagus while you sleep is to elevate the head of your bed. That way, you'll be sleeping on a slope, and gravity will work for you in keeping your stomach contents where they belong. Put wooden blocks under the legs at the head of your bed to raise it about six inches.
Get rid of your waterbed. In a waterbed, your body basically lies flat on the water-filled mattress. You can't effectively elevate your chest and therefore can't prevent your stomach contents from spilling out into your esophagus.
Say no to a post-dinner snooze. Tempting as it may look, the couch is not your friend after you eat a meal. People who lie down with a full stomach are asking for trouble. Wait at least an hour before you lie down.
Don't eat before bed. Avoid bedtime snacks. In fact, it's best if you can wait two to three hours -- the time it takes the stomach to empty -- after a meal to go to bed. While you're waiting, stay upright.
Pass on seconds. A stomach ballooned by too much food and drink may partly empty in the wrong direction.
Lose the fat. Abdominal fat pressing against the stomach can force the contents back up.
Look forward to delivery. Pregnancy can cause heartburn, particularly in the third trimester when your growing baby is pushing up against your stomach. If you still have heartburn after making lifestyle changes, such as eating smaller meals, talk with your doctor about taking an antacid.
Don't smoke. Nicotine from cigarette smoke irritates the valve between the stomach and the esophagus, as well as the stomach lining, so smokers tend to get more heartburn.
Be careful of coffee. The caffeine in coffee relaxes the esophageal sphincter, which can lead to reflux. But even decaffeinated coffee may cause reflux problems: Research suggests the oils contained in both regular and decaffeinated coffee may play a role in heartburn. Experiment to see if cutting your coffee intake lessens your heartburn.
Be wary of peppermint. For some people, peppermint seems to cause heartburn. Try skipping the after-dinner mints and see if it helps.
Take it easy. Stress can prompt increased acid secretion and cause the esophageal sphincter to malfunction.
Skip the cocktail. Alcohol can relax the sphincter and irritate the stomach, too, which can lead to reflux.
Slow down on soda. The carbon dioxide in soda pop and other bubbly drinks can cause stomach distention, which can push the contents of the stomach up into the esophagus.
Check your painkiller. If you're about to pop a couple of aspirin in your mouth, think again. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and products that contain them can burn the esophagus as well as the stomach. Opt for acetaminophen for pain relief. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics,