Special Health Reports

Cooling Heartburn


Cooling Heartburn

Heartburn can be difficult to cope with but many people manage it quite well. However, other people spend countless hours and untold sums of money looking for a way to spell relief. This Harvard Medical School Guide: Cooling Heartburn, explains the causes of heartburn, and what you can do to prevent and treat it.

Other Product Information

You enjoyed the meal, but now you’re paying for it, big time. You’ve got heartburn — an uncomfortable burning sensation radiating up the middle of your chest. Heartburn, the most common gastrointestinal malady, can hit after you eat spicy foods, when you lie down to take a nap, or perhaps at bedtime. Many women experience this sensation during pregnancy. 

About one-third of Americans have heartburn at least once a month, with 10% experiencing it nearly every day. One survey revealed that 65% of people with heartburn may have symptoms both during the day and at night, with 75% of the nighttime heartburn patients saying that the problem keeps them from sleeping, and 40% reporting that nighttime heartburn affects their job performance the following day. This epidemic leads people to spend nearly $2 billion a year on over-the-counter antacids alone. Clearly, it’s a major problem.

Heartburn is an expression of a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), often called “reflux,” in which acid and pepsin rise from the stomach into the esophagus, much like water bubbling into a sink from a plugged drain.

While GERD — and its symptom, heartburn — can be difficult to cope with, many people manage them quite well. However, other people spend countless hours and untold sums of money looking for a way to spell relief.

This Harvard Medical School Guide explains the causes of GERD, and what you can do to prevent and treat it.

Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publishing in consultation with Lawrence S. Friedman, M.D., Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and Assistant Chief of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. 18 pages. (2023)

About Harvard Medical School Guides

Harvard Medical School Guides delivers compact, practical information on important health concerns. These publications are smaller in scope than our Special Health Reports, but they are written in the same clear, easy-to-understand language, and they provide the authoritative health advice you expect from Harvard Health Publishing.

Is it heartburn or a heart attack?

Don’t ignore the possibility that chest pain may mean a heart attack instead of heartburn. GERD symptoms can mimic the pain of a heart attack or angina (chest pain caused by diminished blood flow through the coronary arteries). This is especially true when the sensation is constricting rather than burning in nature. It can be dangerous to assume that your chest pain is caused by acid reflux, even if you already have GERD.

People with known GERD should always seek medical attention if they experience chest discomfort caused by exercise, as it may signal either angina or a heart attack. Also, pay attention to how severe your chest pain is and how long it lasts. If you feel a severe, pressing, or squeezing discomfort, it may be a heart attack. And heart attack pain lasts a while. If the pain goes away after five to 10 minutes, it probably is not a heart attack. Still, it could be angina, which does require a visit to the doctor—and treatment.

If you have any chest pain symptoms that are unusual for you, or if you are concerned that you may be having a heart attack, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital


No reviews have been left for this newsletter. Log in and leave a review of your own.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Sign Up
Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.