GERD and Your Gall Bladder: The Truth About the Connection

Gallbladder disease is a very common affliction, suffered by as many as 20 million Americans. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is also very common, affecting somewhere between 10 and 20 million adults in America.

The gall bladder is responsible for the production of bile, an important fluid that helps break down food, and in particular fats, in the stomach. Most gallbladder disease cases involve gallstones, which form in the gallbladder when particles form into solid masses. Although some people with gallstones do not experience any pain at all, others suffer greatly. Gallstones can even block the bile duct, between the gallbladder and the liver, creating intense and sudden pain in the chest.

GERD is most often characterized as chronic acid reflux, or heartburn, one of the most common symptoms of GERD. Patients with GERD often experience other symptoms, but most GERD sufferers report intense pain in the chest.

As more studies are done to determine whether or not gallbladder disease and GERD are published, it is likely that a link will be discovered. GERD is usually the result of overly acidic stomach contents irritating the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that serves as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach. Acidic stomach contents can cause serious damage to the esophagus if left untreated. More importantly at this time, the symptoms of gallbladder disease and GERD can be very similar, and a misdiagnosis can cause further harm and a delay in proper care.

Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease and GERD

GERD is often called chronic heartburn, due to the fact that most patients experience chronic heartburn as the most obvious symptom. However, the cause of GERD is more serious and the long term effects can be very damaging. If no attempts are made to adjust eating habits, and only antacids and over the counter medications are used to treat the symptoms of GERD, stomach acid will begin to do damage to the esophagus. When the esophageal lining changes due to unrelenting irritation, sufferers develop Barrett’s esophagus. The tissues in the esophageal lining change so much that swallowing becomes very painful. In addition, a strong correlation has been made between Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.

Symptoms of GERD include:

  • Chronic acid reflux, following meals
  • Chest pain leading into back pain, often under the shoulder blade
  • Sore throat
  • Chronic cough or clearing of the throat
  • Sensations of something stuck in the throat
  • Asthma-like symptoms, sensation of a closing throat
  • Frequent regurgitation of sour liquid or small pieces of food
  • Sour taste in the mouth and halitosis

Gallbladder disease is often treated with surgery. If a gallstone gets caught in the bile duct, it can be very painful. Even gallstones that simply sit in the gallbladder can be incredibly painful. Pain often increases when the patient eats fatty foods.

Symptoms of Gallbladder disease include:

  • Chest pain leading into back pain, often under the shoulder blade and usually on the right side
  • Pain following meals
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting

Dangers of Misdiagnosis

Although GERD and Gallbladder disease may be related, the treatments for the two diseases are very different. If you experience chest pain, it is very important that you contact your doctor. Chest pain can result from a number of potentially fatal conditions, including heart attack, and should be taken very seriously. The best way to avoid misdiagnosis is to carefully note all symptoms, especially timing in relation to meals and exercise, frequency, and duration.

Some of the most serious conditions that have symptoms of chest pain may require an immediate trip to the hospital. Besides heart attack, another serious condition called angina can mimic the symptoms of GERD or gallbladder disease. Angina is the partial blockage of an artery, and can lead to heart attack if untreated. Symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath, however they usually increase with an increase of physical activity and will decrease when you relax again. The symptoms of angina will not be relieved by an antacid, whereas GERD symptoms will be relieved. Similarly, gallbladder disease will not respond to antacids.

Always communicate all symptoms to your doctor. Many diseases cannot be accurately diagnosed unless all symptoms have been identified as present. Even if symptoms seem completely unrelated, tell your doctor about every symptom, as your doctor knows more about potentially related diseases and can only diagnose correctly if they have all the information.

Treatment Options

Because GERD symptoms can often be relieved by the use of antacids, if you think you may be suffering from GERD it can be very helpful to buy some over the counter medications to attempt to rule out other conditions, like gallbladder disease. However, antacids alone will not treat the causes of GERD and continuous use of antacids will only increase damage while causing other potentially dangerous side effects. Whether antacids work or not, it is very important to contact your doctor and communicate all symptoms as well as any medications you have used whether they worked or not.

It is also incredibly important to contact your doctor if antacids do not have any effect on symptoms. This may mean that you have another more serious disease, including gallbladder disease. Treatment of gallbladder disease may start with medications or complementary medicines that can reduce gallstones without surgery. However, many people opt for surgery as it is now a commonly performed operation with minimum invasiveness. Not all gallbladder surgery successfully deals with chest pain, so ensure that you are in fact suffering from gallbladder disease before agreeing to undertake surgery.

In the long run, the best way to combat both GERD and gallbladder disease is to eat a healthy, balanced diet high in whole grains and low in highly processed foods which are high in fat and sugar. Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol have all been known to increase or intensify the symptoms of GERD and gallbladder disease. Talk to your doctor about ways to balance the acidity of your stomach through eating more healthily and getting regular exercise. The best treatment is always prevention, and digestive diseases are often a sign of improper diet and and unhealthy lifestyle.

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