At one time or another, many of us have had an occasional bout of heartburn, a painful burning sensation that arises in the chest and may extend to the throat. If you experience more frequent episodes of heartburn, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn occurs when the muscle at the end of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), fails to close off tightly enough when food or liquid enters the stomach, causing the stomach contents to back up (reflux) into the esophagus. Because the partially digested material is usually acidic, it can irritate the esophagus, resulting in heartburn.

Other factors can influence the onset of heartburn as well, including a hiatal hernia, which makes it easier for acid to reflux from the stomach into the esophagus. Pregnancy and certain medications, such as calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure; sedatives for insomnia or anxiety; and beta-blockers for high blood pressure or heart disease can also cause heartburn.

It's one thing to experience these symptoms at home. But if you experience them at work, you may find it unable to focus on your tasks. Here, five steps you can take to prevent heartburn on the job:

1. Avoid heartburn triggers such as spicy or fatty foods, tomatoes and tomato sauces, citrus fruits and juices, chocolate, peppermint, and spearmint. And steer clear of  caffeinated and carbonated beverages.

2. Try eating smaller meals. A full stomach puts extra pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, raising the risk that food will reflux. Try having light snacks throughout the day.

3. Don't exercise after eating. If you tend to work out on your lunch hour, try exercising first, and then enjoying your lunch afterwards.

4. Avoid wearing tight fitting clothing and belts. They can squeeze the stomach, forcing food to reflux.

5. Keep some over-the-counter antacids, which neutralize stomach acid, in your desk drawer.

If your symptoms persist or become excessive, see your doctor. Over time, ongoing acid reflux can damage the lining of the esophagus, causing serious long-term health problems. Your doctor may prescribe stronger medications to reduce acid secretion and may also schedule diagnostic tests such as an upper GI series, which uses X-rays to spot problems in the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine); an esophageal motility test to measure the pressure of your LES; and an upper endoscopy, a routine test in which the upper digestive system is examined using a long, thin, flexible instrument.