Why Do I Have Heartburn?

Causes of Everyday Heartburn

Medically reviewed by Jay N. Yepuri, MD, MS

Heartburn is common, and adults may experience burning in their chest every so often. Sometimes, it’s clear why heartburn happens. At other times, it may take a while to understand what triggers it. If heartburn occurs too often, it may be a sign of an underlying condition that needs treatment.

Learn more about why heartburn occurs and how to prevent if from recurring.

<p>Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images</p>

Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

Why You Have Heartburn: Food and Eating Habits

For some people, certain foods might cause heartburn. Not everyone has the same triggers, but some foods tend to be more frequent offenders than others.

Some foods cause problems because they relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This means that the contents of the stomach (including digestive acids) have the opportunity to come up through the relaxed sphincter into the esophagus (food tube) and cause heartburn.

Common heartburn-triggering foods include:

  • Acidic foods (garlic, onions, tomato sauces)

  • Alcoholic beverages

  • Bacon

  • Carbonated beverages (fizzy water, soda)

  • Cheese (Gouda, Parmesan, cream cheese, Stilton, and cheddar)

  • Chili powder, garlic powder, and pepper (white, black, cayenne)

  • Chocolate

  • Citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, lemons, and limes)

  • Coffee

  • High-fat foods

  • Fried foods (burgers, french fries)

  • Fast foods (which tend to be fatty, greasy, or fried)

  • Foods or drinks containing caffeine

  • Ketchup

  • Milk (cream, hot chocolate, milkshakes)

  • Mints or peppermint

  • Pizza

  • Potato chips and other fried or processed snacks

  • Sausage

  • Spicy foods (such as peppers)

  • Wine

When and how much you eat may also contribute to your heartburn. Eating large meals and lying down flat too soon afterward may also lead to heartburn.

Waking Up With Heartburn

Some people wake up with heartburn. This may be due to foods eaten the night or day before, such as a big meal or trigger foods. It could also be from lying flat all night after eating too close to bedtime.

Why You Have Heartburn: Medications

Medications may also cause heartburn in some people. Some drugs irritate the esophagus or cause the LES to relax. This can include:

Why You Have Heartburn: During Pregnancy

Pregnant people may also experience heartburn. This is because the hormones during pregnancy may cause the LES to relax. Plus, as the fetus continues to grow and puts pressure on organs, it can push the stomach contents up into the esophagus.

Related: What Is Heartburn in Pregnancy?

Why You Have Heartburn: Underlying Medical Conditions

A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm (the muscle dividing the abdominal and chest cavities). This may lead to heartburn. People might not always know they have this type of hernia, especially if it is small.

People with overweight or obesity may also experience heartburn more often. Increased pressure on the stomach can cause the contents to back up into the esophagus.

A hole in the lining of the stomach is called an ulcer. An ulcer is most often caused by an infection with a type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). An ulcer may cause several symptoms, including pain, indigestion, and heartburn.

When the esophagus is inflamed, the condition is called esophagitis. This may be caused by viruses, bacteria, medications, vomiting, or a chronic condition called eosinophilic esophagitis. Irritation in the esophagus may lead to chronic heartburn.

PMS and Heartburn

One study showed that people who experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) commonly report digestive symptoms. Some people might have heartburn or indigestion, although it's unclear how common it is or what might cause it. It may help to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle while experiencing PMS.

You Might Have Heartburn From Smoking

Smoking might also lead to frequent heartburn. Smoking has several effects on the throat. It might cause the LES to weaken, causing stomach contents to back up. Plus, smoking might prevent bile salts from moving into the stomach, which leaves the stomach's contents more acidic. 

In addition, the esophagus might become irritated from smoking. The irritation might make the esophagus more susceptible to damage.

Related: How Smoking Cigarettes Affects Digestion

Factors You Can’t Control

Making lifestyle changes (such as what, when, and how much you eat) may help to avoid some cases of heartburn. However, some potential factors may be out of your control. This includes medical conditions mentioned previously, such as a hernia, an ulcer, or esophagitis.

In some cases, treating an underlying medical condition might relieve your frequent heartburn. If you've tried making changes and heartburn is still happening more than once a week or is disrupting your sleep or daily living, talk to a healthcare provider.

Why Some People Have Chronic Heartburn

Heartburn is a common condition that can happen to anyone on occasion. When it occurs frequently, it is considered chronic. Chronic heartburn is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Chronic heartburn, or GERD, may be caused by many of the things that can cause occasional heartburn, including diet, medication, or medical conditions. If these conditions are not diagnosed or managed well, they may cause chronic heartburn.

Symptoms of GERD include:

  • Chest pain

  • Chronic cough

  • Difficulty in swallowing

  • Heartburn (a painful burning feeling in the chest)

  • Hoarse voice

  • Nausea

  • Regurgitation (when the contents of the stomach back up into the esophagus or even the mouth)

How to Get Ahead of Heartburn

Preventing heartburn often includes making some lifestyle changes, including the following:

  • Avoiding trigger foods

  • Eating smaller meals

  • Losing weight

  • Sleeping with the head of the bed elevated or on a wedge pillow

  • Stopping eating several hours before going to bed

  • Stopping smoking

Managing underlying conditions can help control your heartburn. Talk to a healthcare provider about how often heartburn occurs. Also, try keeping a log of food, activities, medications, and other factors that may trigger heartburn to find patterns.


Heartburn can occur from time to time for many reasons. Sometimes, its cause can be determined and triggers can be avoided. This may include making changes to your diet and lifestyle. If heartburn is related to a chronic condition, it could take time to get a diagnosis and treatment.

If a medication you take for an unrelated condition is contributing to your heartburn, ask your healthcare provider about alternatives. Also speak to your provider about treatment and prevention.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.