Bile Reflux Disease
Bile reflux disease is a problem that is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are so similar to that of a common problem in today’s society. Many of those suffering with bile reflux disease are mistakenly diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD, and commonly referred to as acid reflux. The mix-up isn’t all that surprising, as bile reflux and GERD share a lot of symptoms. Unfortunately for the misdiagnosed, however, acid reflux treatments such as proton-pump inhibitors often fail to solve the problem completely.
In fact, because there are very few reliable treatments to bile reflux disease, many doctors and patients can start to feel a bit hopeless. The results of the disease can be quite drastic, including Barrett’s Esophagus, which is often a pre-cursor to esophageal cancer. That’s why it is so important for individuals to gather as much information as they can about the disease itself, as well as about the treatment options that are available.
While there definitely isn’t as much ready data on bile reflux disease as there is on GERD, the body of knowledge is growing. For example, it is known that bile reflux actually happens when liver fluids unexpectedly make their way into the stomach. These fluids are supposed to stay separate and join with partially-digested food after it has left the stomach and entered the small intestine. There they do their job by helping to break down fats in the food.
There are a few reasons, however, that bile can seep into the stomach. The digestive system is mainly set up as a one-way passage through the body with various valves and sphincters working to ensure that our food only goes one way. If these valves weaken, they can accidentally allow fluids to flow the wrong way, entering areas of the body where they can do harm. In the case of bile reflux disease, bile makes its way up into the stomach where it irritates the lining. If the individual also suffers from acid reflux (caused by weakness in the sphincter between the top of the stomach and the esophagus), bile can makes its way even further up, wreaking havoc as it goes.
When bile does reach the esophagus, it can severely inflame the lining. In addition to heartburn, the patient may also experience choking or even the much dreaded Barrett’s esophagus. Add to that the increased risk for stomach cancer, and it obviously makes sense to educate yourself about the various treatment options available for bile reflux.
Of course, before treatment can happen, you need to get that accurate diagnosis. The most useful test for bile reflux is an endoscopic exam that looks at both the esophagus and the stomach. The doctor will be looking for inflammation and sores. Additionally, an acid check of the esophagus is helpful. Bile is not acidic, so if the test comes back negative despite other symptoms, bile reflux is a natural suspect. Finally, doctors have other testing methods to see if either gas or liquid is refluxing into the esophagus.
The situation is not hopeless for those with bile reflux disease. Getting an accurate diagnosis is simply an important first step to finding the treatment that works. If you have been diagnosed with GERD and aren’t finding that your treatment seems to be working, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor to double check for bile reflux disease so you can get started on a path that gets you healthy once again.