VANCOUVER -- Ever have that burning feeling in your chest? You’re not alone. About a third of American adults suffer from heartburn and acid reflux, and the numbers are growing. But before you reach for medications, there are some simple lifestyle changes that might make you feel better.

To deal with her heartburn, Valia Portela made some real changes to her diet.

“I cut out coffee, to only one cup a day, hot chocolate sporadically and that was one of my favorite treats,” she says. “(And I cut out) tomato sauce (and) tomatoes.” 

Whether your eating habits have changed during the pandemic or you’re dealing with new sources of stress, you may find you’re getting painful heartburn and acid reflux more often. But Consumer Reports’ Trish Calvo says you shouldn’t just reach for medication.

““Proton-pump inhibitors like Prilosec, Prevacid, or Nexium can be really expensive,” she says. “And when these drugs are used over the long term they’ve been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, kidney disease and dementia.”

But there is some good news. A recent study found that some simple lifestyle changes can be effective at targeting symptoms and keeping chronic heartburn and acid reflux at bay.

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important factors in reducing painful symptoms. Getting at least 30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous exercise daily can also help, as can following a healthy diet that includes higher daily intake of whole grains and lower intake of red meat and added sugars.

If you smoke, it’s another reason to quit. The chemicals in cigarettes can interfere with normal digestion in ways that can trigger heartburn.

And consider your beverage choices. People who drank no more than two cups of coffee, tea or soda a day experienced fewer symptoms.

For occasional, unexpected and mild heartburn, you can try an antacid to neutralize it. If you get expect to get it from a spicy meal, a low-dose histamine blocker like Pepcid AC can decrease stomach acid production.

And if you experience heartburn more than twice a week or it recurs for weeks or months, consider seeing your doctor.

But tweaking your  lifestyle might keep you out of the drugstore in the first place.

“Those little changes made me feel much, much better,” Portela says.

With files from Consumer Reports