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What to Know About Yellow Bile

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 11, 2021

Bile is a greenish-yellow liquid made and released by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It aids in the digestion of food and fluids by breaking down fats into fatty acids. Your body then takes up these acids into the digestive tract. Bile also aids the body in breaking down:

What Is Yellow Bile Reflux

Bile reflux is a disabling condition that affects the function of the stomach. The condition presents itself as abdominal pain, bilious vomiting, and weight loss. It happens because of the free movement of duodenum contents into the stomach and other proximal small bowel constituents. In other words, bile flows back into the stomach instead of moving through the small intestines. The condition is also known as gastroesophageal reflux.

Large amounts of bile are secreted into the intestines every day. Your body loses only relatively smaller amounts. This is because a large proportion of the acids are absorbed back into the blood within the ileum.

Sometimes when you vomit, you may notice a greenish-yellow material, which could be bile. If you vomit bile more than once, you could be having a medical condition responsible for the problem. Yellow bile is usually a result of changes in the body due to the underlying condition. In most cases, it's no cause for concern, especially if you vomit while your stomach is empty.

Symptoms of Bile Reflux

You may have a variety of symptoms when you have bile reflux. Here are a few of them.

Diarrhea: This is the main symptom of bile reflux. When the bile acids are not properly re-absorbed from the ileum, they pass into the large intestine (colon). This irritates the lining of the colon and stimulates salt and water secretion.

Stomach problems. These include bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, and excessive wind.

Heartburn. When you feel a burning sensation that radiates towards the throat or mouth, it could be because of bile reflux. It occurs after meals, in the supine position, and after bending over or heavy lifting. Consuming hot, spicy, or acidic foods and drinks often provokes heartburn, too.

Regurgitation. This is the effortless return of gastric content into the esophagus and frequently in the mouth. It can happen during the day or at night. Regurgitated foods or fluids can be acidic or bitter.

Chest pain. Chest pain is a lesser common symptom of bile reflux. But it could be an alarming symptom of mechanical obstruction that can cause vomiting of yellow bile.

Causes of Yellow Bile in Vomit

There are several reasons why you may find yellow bile in your vomit. Here are a few:

Diagnosis of Yellow Bile Reflux

Researchers have developed different methods to investigate reflux in the stomach and esophagus. But until now, no definitive diagnosis of reflux disease exists. 

The first and easiest method of diagnosis is to detect the presence of bile and then measure it. When there is reflux, a biochemical analysis can be used to identify the presence of bile in the liquid that refluxed into the esophagus. Bile should not be in the esophagus, and its presence is a symptom of bile reflux.

Treatment of Yellow Bile Reflux

Simple lifestyle changes can help you ease and manage bile reflux, including:

  • Eat smaller but frequent meals.
  • When lying down, ensure that your head is raised 10 to 20 cm so that food does not go back to your mouth from the stomach
  • If you're overweight, try to lose weight.
  • Avoid stressful situations and try to relax as much as possible.
  • Eat your evening meals 2 or 3 hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol and also avoid the intake of secondary smoke whenever possible.
  • Always seek a doctor’s advice before taking any medication.
  • Drink plenty of clean water for hydration.

To be sure, always seek the advice and opinion of a qualified healthcare practitioner who can offer personalized treatment suggestions.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Annals of Palliative Medicine: “Understanding vomiting from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine.”

British Medical Association: “Indigestion: When is it Functional?”

Comprehensive Physiology: “Bile Formation and Secretion.”

GASTROENTEROLOGY & HEPATOLOGY: “Management of Bile Reflux.”

Journal of clinical lipidology: “Balancing Cholesterol Synthesis and Absorption in the Gastrointestinal Tract.”

Journal of Gastrointestinal & Digestive System: “Stomach Bloating.”

Journal of Nuclear Medicine Technology: “Classification of Schema of Symptomatic Enterogastric Reflux Utilizing Sincalide Augmentation on Hepatobiliary Scintigraphy.”

Karger: “Bile Reflux into the Stomach and the Esophagus for Volunteers Older than 40 Years.”

Maastricht University: "Bile Reflux in GERD: Pathophysiological mechanism, clinical relevance, and therapeutic implications."

Medicine: “Bile reflux gastritis cystica profunda.”

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Disease: “Acid Reflux (GER and GERD) in Adults.”

NHS Inform: “Vomiting in adults.”

VIVO Pathophysiology: “Secretion of Bile and the Role of Bile Acids in Digestion.”

World Journal of Gastroenterology: “Overlapping gastroesophageal reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome: Increased dysfunctional symptoms.”

UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER MEDICAL CENTER: “Bile – not Acid – is Bad Guy in Triggering Precancerous Condition Associated with Reflux Disease.”

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