13 Stomach-churning Causes of Heartburn

Over 6 million people in the United States experience heartburn each month. Although this condition is not usually indicative of a serious medical problem, it can be annoying. Fortunately, heartburn is easy enough to avoid when you know what triggers it in the first place.

So, just what causes heartburn, anyway? The first trigger on our list likely won’t come as a surprise…

13. Spicy Foods

Young woman eating spicy food.
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Food is the number one culprit of heartburn, and spicy foods are notorious for triggering heartburn. 

Why Does It Increase Risk?

It all comes down to one chemical: capsaicin, the chemical that makes spicy foods hot. Not only does it liven up your meal, but it also slows down digestion. If you’ve consumed too much of this spicy chemical, your stomach might have trouble keeping up, which leads to heartburn. 

Spicy food is popular, as is the following heartburn trigger…

12. Coffee

man holding a funny huge and oversized cup of black coffee in caffeine addiction concept
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We all know coffee for that delicious morning pick-me-up that it provides. However, this cup of joe has other effects on the body. Just like the other foods on this list, coffee can cause heartburn. 

Why Does It Increase Risk?

Coffee is highly acidic and contains chemicals that affect our digestive tract. When you consume too much coffee, the stomach consequently becomes overloaded with acidic liquid as well as powerful chemicals, triggering heartburn.

Unfortunately, coffee isn’t the only delicious heartburn trigger…

11. Chocolate 

Portrait of a happy young woman hugging chocolate bar isolated over pink background
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Technically, chocolate is a bean. So the next time you eat a candy bar, you can rest assured that you are technically eating some veggies. However, this delicious treat is a big cause of heartburn. 

Why Does It Increase Risk?

There are two primary reasons why chocolate can trigger heartburn, and both rest on the fact that chocolate contains cocoa. For starters, cocoa is acidic, which can trigger heartburn symptoms. Additionally, cocoa can start a chemical reaction that results in the relaxing of the esophageal sphincter (the muscle that constricts the opening between the stomach and throat). This relaxation means that some stomach acid can make its way to the throat, also causing heartburn.

Spicy foods, coffee, and perhaps even chocolate may not come as surprising heartburn triggers. The next trigger, though, often comes as a surprise to many…

10. Tomatoes

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Tomatoes contain both citric and malic acid. Especially when raw, the tomato is a very acidic food. A well-cooked tomato, however, loses some of that acidic punch, so it can be hard to identify the tomato as one of your heartburn triggers. 

The following beverage can also increase heartburn risk… 

9. Alcohol

Funny man in suit and glasses embracing bottle of wine holding wineglasses
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Alcohol is responsible for a wide range of health concerns. Everything from hangovers to fatal medical conditions can be caused by drinking under the wrong circumstances. One of the more common problems caused by alcohol, though, is heartburn.  

Why Does It Increase Risk?

Alcohol not only causes the stomach to increase its acid production, but it relaxes the esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to escape into the throat. 

Oftentimes, people pair alcohol with the following, which further increases the odds of heartburn…

8. Fatty Foods

Woman's head pokes out of unhealthy food pile
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Fat takes longer to digest than other materials. That means overwhelming the stomach with fat can create issues. Specifically, it overwhelms the muscle that protects the throat, leading to stomach acid backing up into the throat. 

Of course, sometimes it is not what you eat, but how much you eat…

7. Massive Meals

Delicious big hamburger on wooden background
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The simple reason large portions create heartburn? Your stomach is simply too full to keep everything in. If you’ve ever felt so full you might burst, there’s a good chance that some stomach acid was forced out of your stomach and into your throat.

Sometimes it is not our diets that contribute to heartburn, but rather our physical health…

6. Being Overweight 

weigh scales on orange background, top view
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Being overweight increases your risk of heartburn by simply creating less room for your stomach. Simply put, excess weight increases abdominal pressure, which in turn squeezes the stomach. This squeezing can result in stomach acid leaking into the esophagus.

The following potential cause of heartburn can only affect about 50% of the population…

5. Pregnancy 

Pregnant Woman with Heartburn Acid Reflux Symptom. Mother to be experiencing hyper-acidity in third trimester of pregnancy
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Carrying a child changes the body in numerous ways. Unfortunately, heartburn is just another one of these changes. 

Why Does It Increase Risk?

Pregnancy increases the pressure inside the abdomen. This increased pressure also squeezes on the stomach. In turn, this squeezing can result in gastric acid backing up into the throat. The final result? Heartburn.

The following behavior can contribute not just to heartburn risk, but a host of other health concerns as well…

4. Smoking

World No Tobacco Day Concept Stop Smoking.tobacco cigarette butt on the floor
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Smoking is easily one of the worst things you can do for your health. Cancer, heart disease, and heartburn all share this risk factor in common. Quitting smoking can not only add years to your life, it can also prevent heartburn. 

Why Does It Increase Risk?

Nicotine is to blame for heartburn. Specifically, nicotine relaxes the muscle that keeps the throat and stomach separated. When relaxed, gastric acid has an easier time escaping the stomach to enter the throat. When this event occurs, you experience heartburn.

Your mental health as well as your physical health can impact your heartburn risk…

3. Stress and Poor Mental Health

Young handsome business man talking on the phone over yellow isolated background stressed with hand on head, shocked with shame and surprise face, angry and frustrated. Fear and upset for mistake.
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Stress makes the stomach’s job harder. One of the reasons why stress hits the digestive system so hard has to do with a chemical compound known as prostaglandin. Stress depletes this substance, which normally protects the stomach. With prostaglandin levels low, stomach acid can more freely move back up into the throat. 

Reaching for medication can also sometimes result in that unpleasant burning sensation…

2. Medications 

Heartburn and pain, stomach pills. Digestive problems, ulcers.
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There are countless reasons why medications have heartburn as a side effect. For example, medications can irritate the stomach lining, relax the muscles in the throat, or upset the entire digestive process. Each of these events leads to heartburn.

The following cause of heartburn is a condition that requires professional medical attention…

1. Hiatal Hernia 

The hiatal hernia is the advancement of part of the stomach towards the esophagus, isolated over white background. 3D rendering
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Sometimes known as a stomach hernia or hiatus hernia, a hiatal hernia is a specific type of hernia that can last throughout a person’s life.

Why Does It Increase Risk?

A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach distends into the throat. While typically only a small portion of the stomach distends, it is enough to cause some serious heartburn.

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