Burning sensation

Updated Jun 27, 2014

No, not that one. We’re talking heartburn.

It’s the unwelcome nighttime guest, often creeping up as soon as your head hits the pillow: Heartburn.

For many, heartburn is a chronic issue, even occurring as often as daily. It can disturb sleep patterns, and its symptoms can be scarily close to those of a heart attack. Dr. Victor Sierpina, a former truck driver and author of The Healthy Gut Workbook (to be released this fall), says there are steps that can be taken to decrease the likelihood of suffering from the ailment.

“One of the kind of trademark things that truck drivers do a lot is drink coffee, and some of them … smoke or use other tobacco,” Sierpina says. “If they have heartburn, the problem with both caffeine and tobacco [is] they reduce the tone of the esophageal sphincter, which is like a valve that keeps things from backing up into the … esophagus. Things that make that too relaxed are things that make heartburn more likely to occur.”

Other common things that can cause this, Sierpina says, are other forms of caffeine, alcohol and mint. He also says waiting to sleep until at least a few hours after your last meal can help. “If you have a sleeper in your truck, get a wedge pillow to prop your head up a little,” he suggests.

Maintaining a healthy weight can also help, but Sierpina says if you are overweight, do not wear clothing that is too constrictive around your waistband. “Try to make sure the belt on your pants is loose. Anything that’s constricting or tight around the belly [should be avoided],” he says. “Usually a seatbelt or a shoulder belt won’t be too tight. … If you really have a lot of problems with a tight belt, you might think about using suspenders or wearing overalls.”

As for treatment of heartburn, Sierpina says there are several natural and over-the-counter fixes available. He says DGL, a form of licorice, and aloe juice can help. He says antacids such as Gaviscon, Maalox, Mylanta and Tums are also readily available treatments, with some others available by prescription only. These medicines generally have few side affects, but Sierpina says they may cause diarrhea or constipation, and “they can affect absorption of certain vitamins with chronic use.”

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Sierpina suggests that anyone having chronic chest pain or using antacids daily consider visiting a doctor, especially since the symptoms of many heart problems are similar to those of heartburn.

Heartburn help

Steps that may make you feel better

• If you smoke, stop.

• Avoid foods and beverages that worsen symptoms.

• Lose weight if needed.

• Eat small, frequent meals.

• Wear loose-fitting clothes.

• Avoid lying down for 3 hours after a meal.

• Raise the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches by securing wood blocks under the bedposts. Just using extra pillows will not help.

Information from



Common foods that can cause heartburn


• Citrus fruits

• Chocolate

• Drinks with caffeine or alcohol

• Fatty and fried foods

• Garlic and onions

• Mint flavorings

• Spicy foods

• Tomato-based foods, like spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili and pizza

Information from https://www.digestive.niddk.nih.gov/.