Heartburn, also known as reflux, occurs when the contents of the stomach, including acid, flow back into the oesophagus (food pipe).1 This causes a burning sensation in the chest or throat, usually behind the breastbone.2,3 Some people may also experience a bitter or sour taste in the back of their throat.2,3 Heartburn symptoms are usually linked to dietary habits, but factors such as being overweight, pregnancy, smoking and certain medical conditions can also contribute to its development.1,2,4,5 Symptoms may also arise due to the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle around the bottom of the oesophagus that separates it from the stomach, not closing properly.6
How long does heartburn last: understanding the timeline
The duration of a heartburn episode can vary significantly from person to person and episode to episode.7 It may last for only a few minutes or persist for a few hours after it starts, depending on the cause.7 Mild heartburn triggered by eating spicy or acidic food will typically last until the food has been digested.7 Symptoms may also reappear several hours after initial presentation when people bend over or lie down.7 It is therefore crucial to understand the factors that trigger heartburn to not only limit its duration but to help effectively manage and potentially prevent future episodes.1
Factors affecting the duration of heartburn
Several factors can influence how long heartburn lasts:
- Type and amount of food: Certain foods, especially spicy, fatty, or acidic ones, can trigger heartburn. Eating large meals can also put pressure on the stomach, leading to more prolonged symptoms.1,2,4
- Timing of meals: Eating close to bedtime or before exercising can exacerbate heartburn.1,2
- Body position: Lying down or bending over can worsen heartburn symptoms as it can encourage stomach acid to flow back into the oesophagus.1,2
- Stress levels: While stress does not directly cause heartburn, it can lead to trigger behaviours that may potentially aggravate heartburn.5
- Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can relax the lower oesophageal sphincter and slow the entire digestive process, making pregnant individuals more susceptible to heartburn.1,5
- Obesity: excess weight increases pressure on the stomach, increasing the risk of stomach contents flowing back into the oesophagus.2,5
Lifestyle and dietary habits: their impact on heartburn duration
Our lifestyle and dietary habits play a significant role in the duration and severity of heartburn episodes.1,2,4,5 Making changes to these habits can help manage heartburn symptoms more effectively:
- Trigger foods: Identify and limit consumption of foods that trigger your heartburn symptoms. These may include citrus fruits, tomatoes, spicy foods, and chocolate.1,2,4
- Overeating: Eating smaller, more frequent meals is recommended as the stomach can process these more easily and pressure on the stomach is minimised.1,4
- Eating close to bedtime: Avoid eating at least two to three hours before lying down to reduce the risk of heartburn.5
- Alcohol: Limiting alcohol intake can be beneficial as alcohol can relax the lower oesophageal sphincter, increase the amount of acid produced by the stomach, and make the oesophagus more sensitive to acid.1,5
- Stress: Heartburn may be aggravated by stress thus managing stress levels may help to alleviate symptoms.5
- Smoking: Stopping smoking is recommended as smoking can weaken the lower oesophageal sphincter and slow the production of saliva, which helps to neutralise stomach acid if it enters the oesophagus.1,5
Managing heartburn involves a combination of lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, and, in some cases, medications.1,2,4,5 One commonly used medication is Gaviscon, which can provide relief by creating a protective barrier that prevents stomach acid from flowing back into the oesophagus. If heartburn symptoms persist or worsen, you should consult a healthcare professional.
How Gaviscon can help
Gaviscon offers a range of products designed to help provide fast relief from heartburn and indigestion.
Gaviscon Original : Fast, soothing and long-lasting relief from the pain and discomfort of heartburn and indigestion.
Gaviscon Extra Strength : The same fast, soothing and long-lasting relief as Gaviscon Original in half the dose.
Gaviscon Dual Action : Containing an antacid and alginate, Gaviscon Dual Action works in two ways to relieve heartburn and indigestion.
Guardium : A proton pump inhibitor available over-the-counter offering 24-hour protection from frequent heartburn (more than 2 episodes per week1).
In conclusion, understanding how long heartburn lasts and the factors influencing its duration is essential for effectively managing the discomfort associated with heartburn.1 Making mindful adjustments to our lifestyle and dietary habits and, if needed, utilising medications like Gaviscon, can help to manage symptoms.1,2,4,5 If your heartburn persists, worsens or becomes more frequent, it's advisable to seek professional medical assistance for a comprehensive evaluation and personalised guidance.
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux in adults [published August 2022]. In: Therapeutic Guidelines. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; accessed August 2023. https://www.tg.org.au.
- MacFarlane B. Integr Pharm Res Pract. 2018;7:41–752.
- Heading RC, et al. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2016;28(4):455–462.
- Talley NJ et al. Aust Prescr. 2017;40(6):209–213.
- World Gastroenterology Organisation. WGO Handbook on Heartburn: A global perspective, 2015.
- Boeckxstaens G et al. Gut 2014;63(7):1185–1193.
- Healthline. Heartburn: How long can it last and how to find relief. Updated 18 April 2018. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-heartburn-last (accessed August 2023).
This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.
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