Health Watch -- Quick Heartburn Relief

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

You may have a quick remedy for heartburn pain in your purse or pocket.

If you get a burning feeling in your chest after a heavy meal, you're not alone. An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a week, while 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once a month. Heartburn occurs when acidic stomach juices work their way up into the esophagus. The acid in the esophagus creates the uncomfortable burning sensation associated with heartburn.

There are a number of prescription and over-the-counter medications available for treating heartburn, but what do you do if you don't have any of these available? Dr. Stuart Spechler, a heartburn expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says a stick of gum may help provide temporary relief.

Chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva and causes you to swallow more often. When you swallow, it forces acid into the stomach. Meanwhile, saliva is alkaline and will help neutralize the stomach acid left in your esophagus after you swallow.

If you have heartburn frequently and not just occasionally after large meals, talk to your doctor about medication you can take to prevent it. You could have a condition called gastro-esophageal reflux disease that can cause damage to your esophagus over time.

You can lower your chances of having heartburn by avoiding overeating, particularly meals full of rich or spicy foods. And don't lie down soon after a big meal.