Biliary reflux

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Biliary reflux, bile reflux or duodenogastric reflux is a condition that occurs when bile flows upward (refluxes) from the duodenum into the stomach and esophagus.[1]

Biliary reflux can be confused with acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While bile reflux involves fluid from the small intestine flowing into the stomach and esophagus, acid reflux is backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. These conditions are often related, and differentiating between the two can be difficult.

Bile is a digestive fluid made by the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and discharged into duodenum after food is ingested to aid in the digestion of fat. Normally, the pyloric sphincter prevents bile from entering the stomach. When the pyloric sphincter is damaged or fails to work correctly, bile can enter the stomach and then be transported into the esophagus as in gastric reflux. The presence of small amounts of bile in the stomach is relatively common and usually asymptomatic, but excessive refluxed bile causes irritation and inflammation.[2]


  • Intense and lasting abdominal pain
  • Abdominal pain after consumption of food
  • Frequent heartburn which is not corrected by treatment for gastric reflux
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unintended weight loss


Most damage to the pyloric valve occurs as a complication of gastric surgery. Other causes of biliary reflux may be:

A significant fraction of cases are idiopathic, with no identified specific etiology.



The treatment for bile reflux is the same as the treatment for acidic reflux. In general, everything that can reduce acidic reflux can reduce bile reflux. Examples include lifestyle modification, weight reduction, and the avoidance of eating immediately before sleep or being in the supine position immediately after meals. In addition, smoking has been found to be a factor in the development of acidic reflux. Thus, all of these factors should be applied to bile reflux as well.

Likewise, drugs that reduce the secretion of gastric acid (e.g., proton pump inhibitors) or that reduce gastric contents or volume can be used to treat acidic bile reflux. Because prokinetic drugs increase the motility of the stomach and accelerate gastric emptying, they can also reduce bile reflux. Other drugs that reduce the relaxations of the lower esophageal sphincter, such as baclofen, have also proven to reduce bile reflux, particularly in patients who are refractory to (medically unresponsive to) proton pump inhibitor therapy.[3]

Medications used in managing biliary reflux include bile acid sequestrants, particularly cholestyramine, which disrupt the circulation of bile in the digestive tract and sequester bile that would otherwise cause symptoms when refluxed; and prokinetic agents, to move material from the stomach to the small bowel more rapidly and prevent reflux.

Biliary reflux may also be treated surgically, if medications are ineffective or if precancerous tissue is present in the esophagus.[4]


  1. ^ Cheifetz, Adam S.; Brown, Alphonso; Curry, Michael; Alan C. Moss (2011-03-10). Oxford American Handbook of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Oxford University Press US. pp. 239–. ISBN 978-0-19-538318-8. Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  2. ^ Distinguishing Between Bile Reflux and Acid Reflux can be Difficult
  3. ^ Sifrim D (2013). "Management of bile reflux". Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 9 (3): 179–80. PMC 3745208. PMID 23961269.
  4. ^

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