Every year in the United States, half a million people have their gallbladders removed. Cholestectomy is often a necessary medical procedure. Gallbladder attacks are extremely painful and can cause life-threatening infections. Most people who have a cholecystectomy have no problems afterwards. Unfortunately, a small percentage of people (10 to 15 percent) have post-cholecystectomy complications, including GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
Not Just a Vestigial Organ
Most people believe that the gallbladder is a vestigial (unneeded) organ, much like the appendix or the tonsils. While you are able to survive without a gallbladder, it does serve a purpose. A gallbladder regulates the flow of bile into your stomach. Every day, your liver produces more than a quart of bile. The gallbladder is the storage tank for the bile. Bile is used by your body to absorb fats and oils. When you eat fatty foods, your body signals the gallbladder to squirt out some bile to aid in digestion. Without your gallbladder,the liver still produces bile, but you don't receive the quantity that you used to. This prevents you from digesting fats as well as someone with a functioning gallbladder. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a common problem after gallbladder surgery.
What is GERD?
Your stomach is filled with strong acid to aid in the digestion of the food you eat.The acid found in your stomach has the same acidity level as the acid found in car batteries. GERD, or acid reflux disease, occurs when the valve separating the esophagus and the stomach does not close properly. This valve is called the lower esophageal spincter. This spincter is usually squeezed shut when you are not eating. When you eat, the spincter opens to allow the food into your stomach. When you have GERD, the lower esophageal spincter is open at the wrong times. This allows the stomach acid to creep up into the esophagus. Your stomach has a protective lining to protect it from the acid, but your esophagus doesn't.Your esophagus can be easily injured by the backup of stomach acid.
The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. If you experience heartburn more than twice a week, you may have GERD. Other symptoms can include regurgitation, trouble swallowing, pain with swallowing, nausea and chest pain. GERD can also cause chronic cough, laryngitis, asthma, dental enamel erosion, damaged teeth and sinusitis. If left untreated, GERD can cause severe damage to your esophagus. People who suffer from GERD can experience ulcers and narrowing of the esophagus. GERD can also cause Barrett's Esophagus, a precurser to cancer. It is estimated that 20 percent of people with Barrett's Esophagus will develop cancer. If you suspect that you have GERD, it is very important to discuss treatment options with your doctor.
GERD sufferers usually need to make some lifestyle changes. Some foods and habits can make GERD worse. Certain foods that stimulate acid production should be avoided. These foods include coffee, fatty foods, tomatoes, citrus juices, chocolate, peppermint, cabbage, broccoli, garlic,onions,spicy foods and carbonated beverages. GERD sufferers should eat small meals and avoid eating two to three hours before going to bed. Obesity worsens GERD, as does smoking. Drinking alcohol can make GERD more severe as it relaxes the lower esophageal spincter.
There are many medications, prescription and over-the-counter, which can help relieve GERD symptoms. Antacids such as Maalox, Mylanta and Rolaids are usually the first drug GERD sufferers try. Antacids work by neutralizing stomach acid. These can be useful for relieving mild GERD symptoms. Many people with GERD require stronger medications than antacids.
Zantac, Tagamet, and Pepcid AC are H2 blockers. H2 blockers work by p0reventing histamine, or H2, from producing acid in the stomach. Most of the H2 blockers are available without a prescription. However, these only work for about 50 percent of GERD sufferers.
Proton pump inhibitors include Prilosec, Prevacid, Protonix, Aciphex, and Nexium. Most proton pump inhibitors require a prescription. Proton pump inhibitors work by shutting down the proton pump which pumps acid into the stomach. Proton pump inhibitors completely block acid production in the stomach. They are much more effective than H2 blockers and will relieve symptoms and heal the lining of the esophagus.