If you’ve had your gallbladder removed and have since noticed a new-onset burning in your chest or throat, is it possible that the surgery is the cause?

Gallbladder removal (also called cholecystectomy) is common and a frequent recommendation for painful gallstones.

One can lead a perfectly normal life without this pouch-like organ.

Makes you wonder how the human body came to evolve the presence of a gallbladder.

Perhaps in our more primitive ancestry, this organ carried out more functions.

But in modern humans, its function is to store bile—a liquid produced by the liver that breaks down fats found in foods.

The liver continues to produce bile even in the absence of a gallbladder. The substance continuously flows into the intestinal tract.

But can a gallbladder removal lead to heartburn or worsen pre-existing acid reflux issues?

“Yes, it can in some people,” says Nadeem Baig, MD, a board certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Monmouth Gastroenterology, a division of Allied Digestive Health.

“Gallbladder removal can lead to more bile entering the intestinal tract than needed.

“Excess bile can flow back into the stomach, where people can reflux it into their esophagus (food pipe).

“The bile can be equally as noxious as acid in the esophagus, thus triggering heartburn and making acid reflux worse.”

What makes the bile reflux back into the stomach?

One reason would be a weak or too-relaxed esophageal sphincter. This structure is supposed to prevent stomach acid from entering the esophagus.

Likewise, a strong sphincter will prevent bile from refluxing up into the stomach.

If a burning sensation also occurs in the throat, this would be because acid and/or bile has refluxed high enough to make it into the throat.

There are several ways to treat bile reflux, including avoiding any triggers such as lying horizontally overnight. Elevating your bed can help reduce overnight reflux.

You should speak to your surgeon about treatment options.

Dr. Baig’s specialties include gastrointestinal cancers and liver disease, plus gallbladder, biliary tract and pancreatic disorders. He is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


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