Why water can give you heartburn

Heartburn has plagued us for a looooonnngg time....
Heartburn has plagued us for a looooonnngg time.... | Source

Sure, you can get heartburn from a particularly spicy meal, or just by chowing down a bit too generously (Thanksgiving dinner, anyone?). But water?! Yep, even the stuff that's supposed to be good for you in almost all cases can trigger a bout of heartburn. Once you understand why, you'll know how to stay hydrated without having to suffer the consequences.

Why even water can cause heartburn

Heartburn is the result of acidic liquid (usually chyme, or partially-digested food) from your stomach entering your esophagus, or the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. Normally, a valve called the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) maintains a barrier between the esophagus and the stomach, so that the latter's acidic contents don't spill into the esophagus. The stomach and LES are protected from acid; the esophagus is not.

The LES opens when you swallow food or drink, so that what you consume can enter your stomach. It also occasionally opens momentarily when there's pressure in your stomach from trapped gas, so you can burp/belch it out. Sometimes, however, it will open up when it shouldn't, like when the stomach is very full, or when there's pressure on the stomach (like from clothing that's too tight around your waist). In that case, the acidic liquid can overflow into your esophagus, and you feel pain.

So why can water trigger this? There are two primary reasons:

  1. Your stomach might still be filled with chyme from a recently-eaten meal. Drinking some water might add more volume to your stomach contents, and pressure on your stomach which might trigger the LES to open.
    Imagine a bowl filled with soup. If you were to add a cup of water to that full bowl, what would happen?
  2. If your stomach is empty and you drink a large volume of water, the water itself can fill your stomach enough to cause the LES to open. Distension (swelling) of the stomach causes it to release acid, which mixes with the water, resulting in an acidic liquid which can enter the esophagus and also cause heartburn.

The human stomach is, on average, the size of a fist, and has an average capacity of 900 ml (about 30 fluid ounces, or just shy of 4 cups). While your stomach can stretch beyond this, in most cases it's not advisable because you will feel uncomfortably stuffed.

What you can do

What's often recommended if you suffer from heartburn after drinking water is this:

  1. Avoid drinking large amounts of water at once. It's better to slowly sip water than gulp it.
  2. Avoid drinking water right before, during, or right after meals. Drink it between meals when your stomach is empty.
  3. Drink room temperature or warm water instead of cold water. Cold water if you experience more severe pain, which is the result of esophageal spasms triggered by cold water. (If you just have normal heartburn pain, then the temperature of the water should not matter much)

You might also want to avoid other heartburn triggers, which drinking water will only complicate, so avoid:

  • overeating
  • spicy foods
  • caffeine
  • chocolate
  • alliums (garlic, onion, shallots, etc)
  • acidic foods (tomatoes, orange juice, etc.)
  • high-fat meals and meat (because they slow gastric emptying, or the time required for food to leave your stomach)
  • clothing that is too tight around your waist
  • lying down after eating

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Comments 41 comments

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I would never have thought that water can cause heartburn. Thanks so much this a very informative and useful article.

Sinea Pies profile image

Sinea Pies 5 years ago from Northeastern United States

This is an eye opener. I had no idea that water could do that.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Yeah, it's really odd given that, well, we all have to drink water fairly often! But as long as you don't gulp it, drink a lot on a full stomach, and, maybe, avoid it being too cold, it should be manageable. :)

Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 5 years ago from Jamaica

Hello Livelonger,

I never thought water could trigger heartburn at all. I notice though, when my stomach is empty and I drink water I tend to feel nauseous.

Thanks for this very informative article.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hmm...I wonder if that's related somehow. I know I can't drink a big glass of water all of a sudden in the morning on an empty stomach, too.

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

This is positively fascinating. I never understood how heartburn worked, let alone that it could be brought about by drinking water! What an interesting glitch.

I must have a HUGE stomach because I eat ginormous dinners and drink tons of water and don't feel an ounce of heartburn. Yeah... that makes sense when I think about it. I get huge food babies. I bet competitive eaters don't get heartburn either. Which leads me to wonder whether heartburn is something suffered by those who eat small volume meals, or small snacks throughout the day, since they're less likely to have developed a larger or more elastic stomach through arduous, gluttonous training.

rmcrayne profile image

rmcrayne 5 years ago from San Antonio Texas

Drinking lots of water around meal time also dilutes your stomach acid, making it less potent. Therefore, you do not digest food as well as when the acid were more concentrated. Interestingly this give heartburn-like discomfort.

You may want to recheck your statement about stomach size. As a former x-ray tech, and having seen hundreds of stomachs, I can tell you they are much larger than a fist.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks, rmcrayne. I had read on medical sites that the "naturally" stomachs are the size of a fist, but they do stretch quite a bit, and there is probably a lot of natural variation, too.

TheListLady profile image

TheListLady 5 years ago from New York City

Thanks for this information. I often wonder why some people are so affected and this may be why. Thanks a lot. I'll pass this on.

Rated up!

Time4Travel profile image

Time4Travel 5 years ago from Canada

Good information! I didn't connect water with heartburn.

Sherlock221b 5 years ago

I knew there must be a reason I stick to gin. As far as lying down though, I usually find that lying down helps with my digestion. I have even taken to lying down when I am eating, rather like the ancient Romans, and it saves that uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, which I would otherwise get after eating.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Really? Most people have the opposite experience. Lying down relaxes the LES.

powerofknowledge1 profile image

powerofknowledge1 5 years ago

Very Informative! Thanks for sharing

anthony rowe 5 years ago

im gonna have to call B/S on this answer. If I had a problem with my LES being retarded and just opening whenever it felt like it, then I would have heartburn when I drank ANY liquid. I am a large person, when I drink I do so in large amounts... 4 cups? please... that's one swallow. on a bet I drank a two liter bottle of soda once, quite painful I wouldn't suggest it... but no heartburn. I drink juice, sports drinks, soda, milk (flavored and plain) and heck once a drank a cup of ketchup... still no heartburn. I drink a liter of water, a cup... even just a sip and the heartburn is right there immediately. so I say again, this article seems researched and appears well written, but its wrong.

livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Anthony: You can drink a 2-liter bottle of cold coke, but a cup of water of the same temperature provokes heartburn? That's unusual. I'm at a loss at how your case can be explained.

Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 5 years ago from London

I like Sherlock's comment about the gin!

This is a fascinating article. I have to say I agree, as I get heartburn and acid reflux, and I notice that it is worse when I drink water.

It's a real challenge because sometimes at night when the reflux is at its worse, I am also very thirsty. I never know what to do for the best, as I hate being thirsty. Maybe I should try a different drink. Water just seems like the most healthy thing, and what I want most when I'm thirsty..

livelonger profile image

livelonger 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi Moon Daisy: thank you for your comment. Maybe if you drink more slowly (sipping) and by drinking water at a warmer temperature, you can slake your thirst without provoking heartburn?

Steve Orion profile image

Steve Orion 4 years ago from Tampa, Florida

I learn something new every day, thanks for the helpful Hub! For too long spicy food have been demonized =)

livelonger profile image

livelonger 4 years ago from San Francisco Author

Oh, that can trigger it, too! (Sadly...)

sed 4 years ago

i am having heartburn when I drink water after the meal

vwriter profile image

vwriter 4 years ago from US

This is a great article. And it really answered some questions I was having. Now I know how to avoid some of these symptoms.

peabean 4 years ago

I get terrible heartburn when I work out and drink water. I also never get it when I drink soda, but a glass of water at the gym nearly kills me!

Sabna 4 years ago

Thank GOD and thank you for this article. It really helped me confirm my doubts regarding the heartburn which I have started to experience lately. I got this terrible heartburn since I have started drinking too much of water at once on empty stomach. This article really helped me open my eyes. Thank You!

Vitorfior profile image

Vitorfior 3 years ago

Great article! Very helpful. There's one thing I find interesting though. In my experience, whenever I have heartburn, I always instantly kill the symptoms by eating a small amount of butter (without bread). Even though fat causes heart burn. I guess that it must coat the esophagus or something. This is something I've been doing for years and it works every single time. I'm guessing that, fat causes the stomach to release more acid precisely because fat is very good at absorbing acid. That's my guess ;) Cheers!

Donna 3 years ago

This happened to me right before I wrote this. I drank my usual supplement (which I do every night) with a glass of water. After a few minutes I felt my throat burning so bad. I remember it also happened before but I blamed the meds I took that time. Now I realized after reading this artcle that it might be the water that caused my heartburn. I was diagnosed with GERD a few years back. I also have hiatal hernia. Thanks for this informative artiicle

Dawn 3 years ago

Moon daisy ...if you drink a glass of milk slowly it will coat the stomach And stop the acid .....I do this everytime I get this

Henry 3 years ago

I am from Ghana and i moved to the USA two months ago. I realized that i had a heartburn soon as i had normal water especially bottled. I did not have this condition back in Ghana because i only drink bottled water. At first i thought it was the food then i realized its the water. So seriously i don't know about being full and having heartburn when i top up with water. Is it something in the water causing this because i ate more heavy meals in Ghana than i do here.

Jinny 2 years ago

I get heartburn after drinking water so bad that it causes me to vomit. It's just so painful to try and hold it down. I wonder if 19 years of bulimia can be a factor in this as well.

TonyPayne profile image

TonyPayne 2 years ago from Southampton, UK

It just seems weird to me that water should give you heartburn, but it does it to me as well and has done for years. I now sometimes have to take Prilosec on prescription because of heartburn, but I found that eating maybe just a slice of bread when I have something like Orange Juice which is the source of a lot of acid, has made a huge difference for me.

reginaewing 22 months ago

Great article. I started drinking 10 glasses of water a day and noticed frequent heart burns. I could not figure out why until I read your article. I will try sipping water through out the day to see if that relieves my heartburn. Again, thanks.

konstantin 22 months ago

somewhat counterintuitively, plain water almost always gives me heartburn. However carbonated or slightly sour water (with a few drops of lemon or aloe vera juice, apple or balsamic vinegar) work perfectly fine.

Kristyn 17 months ago

Hello, I read an article on the benefits of drinking 3 liters of water a day and decided to try it. BOY! I am on day 3 and I have never experienced heart burn like this. This was a good read.

Kimberly A White profile image

Kimberly A White 16 months ago

Great article! I've suffered from acid reflux following the consumption of water my entire life! Frankly I've been at a loss as to why, this only happens when I drink water!! I'll give the tips in this article a try once I've got the acid reflux settled down that is. Again, thanks for the insite, much appreciated!!

RJR /:-) 15 months ago

Drinking water causes esophageal burning 80% of the time for me, and has for decades! I love water, especially during hot weather, but 30-45 minutes after enjoying 12-20 ozs. comes the discomfort... I've often thought maybe it's the chemical content (chlorine or chloramine) added for purification to be the culprit...

When drinking sodas, juices and/or anything other than water, I do not experience the discomfort mentioned above...

Thank you for the article. It was very interesting and informative.

Kind Regards,

RJR /:-)

Robert W. Thrush Jr.


Pinehurst, N.C.

Sean 15 months ago

I always assumed the heartburn I feel an hour or so after drinking water was caused by the water diluting the pH in my stomach, my stomach then compensating by producing acid to bring the pH back to "normal", and then my body absorbing the water, concentrating the newly created acid to levels much higher than "normal". Basically, I just don't drink water at healthy levels, and my body isn't used to dealing with it when I do.

Erin 14 months ago

I have experienced the same as others have mentioned. I can drink soda, juice, sports drinks etc... but as soon as I drink water I get terrbile heartburn. I'm currently in the middle of one of these episodes and nothing seems to explain it properly. On a positive side at least I'm not hungry

livingelysian profile image

livingelysian 12 months ago from Loveland, Colorado

Thank you. People look at me funny when I say that water gives me heartburn. I have struggled with slow digestion for many years and this is just one of the many irritating issues due to said struggle.

Carmelinda 11 months ago

Thanks for this information! Just recently started drinking 6-8 glasses of filtered water a day. I swallow 2 glasses of warmed water quite quickly, at a time, and started getting heartburn. Now I know why. Trouble is, I don't particularly like drinking so much water, and drinking it quickly like that helped me get my quota :(

tom 6 months ago

We had the heartburn problems after drinking tap water and feel it could be contaminates in the water, changed to bottled water and problem is all most gone. Going to get water tested . Thought we were the only ones with this problem but doesn't look that way maybe there's more to this than meets the eye.

Carol 5 months ago

This is very interesting, and I can't wait to give the suggestions a try.

I do drink lots of water, and it gives me lots of heart burn. I want to try using warm water, and not drink with meals or on a full stomach. I also know my pants are too tight, who knew that might cause heartburn.

Thanks, very good information.

Joseph balas 3 months ago

In the drinking of Ice cold water not only aggravated my gird but also retrd in an hour or so of painful spas if series of regurgitating of clear foamy liquid

What was that liquid composed of?

The entire episode was not unlike throwing up

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