Bile plays a crucial role in the digestion of fats and in removing old red blood cells and harmful toxins from the body. It is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. When you consume a meal containing even a small amount of fat, the gallbladder is signalled to release bile, which enters the upper portion of the small intestine (duodenum) through a small tube.
Bile reflux into the stomach
After food and bile combine in the duodenum, they enter the small intestine. Typically, the pyloric valve – a strong muscle located at the stomach’s exit – only opens slightly, releasing small amounts of liquefied food at a time. However, bile can flow back into the stomach if the valve fails to close correctly. This can cause inflammation of the stomach lining, known as bile reflux gastritis.
Bile reflux into the esophagus
When the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscular valve that separates the esophagus and stomach, malfunctions, bile and stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus. Usually, the valve opens just long enough to let food pass into the stomach. Still, bile can reflux into the oesophagus if weakened or abnormally relaxed.
What leads to bile reflux?
Various factors, such as surgery complications, can often cause bile reflux. Most cases are caused by stomach surgery, including total or partial stomach removal and gastric bypass surgery for weight loss. Peptic ulcers can also be a culprit by blocking the pyloric valve, causing stagnant food in the stomach to increase gastric pressure and allow bile and stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. It is important to note that individuals who have undergone gallbladder surgery are at a higher risk of bile reflux compared to those who haven’t had this surgery.