common causes of heartburn and what to do about it:

Source: Saint Louis University School of Medicine

Common causes of heartburn:

-- eating large meals, eating fast, and eating fatty foods. These triggers affect almost everyone who has heartburn.

-- chocolate. This one is also reasonably consistent, hitting most heartburn sufferers.

-- coffee and caffeinated drinks. Some people have trouble with coffee and caffeine, while others do not.

-- citrus products, like oranges and orange juice. While caffeine actually induces reflux, citrus just mimics the feeling because of its acidity.

-- garlic, onions, spicy foods, and high-fat foods.

-- tomatoes. They tend to be more of a problem when they are cooked than when they are raw, but both can bring on heartburn.

-- alcohol. All types of alcohol can trigger heartburn.

-- eating certain foods, including onions, peppermint, and high-fat foods, as well as drinking alcohol, can cause the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, which controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach, to relax. Usually, this muscle remains tightly closed except when food is swallowed. However, when this muscle fails to close, the acid-containing contents of the stomach can travel back up into the esophagus, producing a burning sensation commonly referred to as heartburn.

-- carbonated and caffeinated beverages (such as coffee, tea, colas, and sodas) can aggravate heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Tomatoes, citrus fruits, or juices also contribute additional acid that can irritate the esophagus.

-- smoking relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, contributing to heartburn and GERD.

What to do about it:

-- Do not go to bed with a full stomach. Eat meals at least two to three hours before lying down. This will give food time to digest and empty from your stomach, and acid levels a chance to decrease before putting your body in a position where heartburn is more likely to occur.

-- Eat moderate portions of food and smaller meals. Eat slowly. Take time to eat.

-- Do not overeat. Try eating four to five small meals instead of three large ones.

-- After eating, keep an upright posture. Do not lie down after eating. In fact, stand up and walk around.

-- Lose some pounds. If you are overweight, losing weight can help relieve your symptoms.

-- Stop smoking. Nicotine, one of the main active ingredients in cigarettes, can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and stomach.

-- Avoid alcohol. If your aim is to unwind after a stressful day, then try exercise, walking, meditation, stretching, or deep breathing instead of drinking alcohol.

-- Avoid heartburn triggers. Stay away from foods and beverages that trigger your heartburn symptoms (for example, onions, spearmint, peppermint, chocolate, high-fat foods, beverages such as coffee, citrus fruits or juices, sodas). A good way to figure out what foods cause your symptoms is to keep a heartburn diary.