Bile reflux

Bile reflux occurs when bile — a digestive liquid produced in your liver — backs up (refluxes) into your stomach and esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth and stomach). Bile reflux may accompany acid reflux, the medical term for the backwash of stomach acids into your esophagus.

Whether bile is important in reflux is controversial. Bile is often implicated as a cause of reflux when people respond incompletely or not at all to powerful acid-suppressant medications. But there is little evidence pinpointing the effects of bile reflux in people. Studies in lab animals indicate that over time, bile reflux may have serious consequences, potentially increasing your risk of esophageal cancer.

Unlike acid reflux, bile reflux usually can't be completely controlled by changes in diet or lifestyle. Instead, bile reflux is most often managed with medications or, in severe cases, with surgery.

Symptoms Causes Complications

Bile reflux can be difficult to distinguish from acid reflux. The signs and symptoms are similar, and the two conditions may occur at the same time. It isn't clear what role bile plays in reflux conditions.

Bile reflux signs and symptoms include:

  • Upper abdominal pain that may be severe
  • Frequent heartburn — a burning sensation in your chest that sometimes spreads to your throat, along with a sour taste in your mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting a greenish-yellow fluid (bile)
  • Occasionally, a cough or hoarseness
  • Unintended weight loss

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you frequently experience symptoms of reflux, or if you're losing weight without trying.

If you've been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) but aren't getting adequate relief from your medications, call your doctor. You may need additional treatment for bile reflux.

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