Symptoms of bile duct blockage may be confusing simply because they mimic those of other, more minor, digestive discomforts and disorders. A blockage in the bile duct may be temporary and cause of little or no lasting health problems. Greater obstructions, however, can lead to serious metabolic problems as bile is necessary for proper digesting and processing of food.
Bile is the substance made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It is a dark, yellow-green alkaline liquid. Bile (sometimes called “gall”) contains cholesterol, bile salts, some proteins, and urea. It also contains two pigments: a reddish one called bilirubin and a green, biliverdin. Bile passes through a duct into the duodenum (where the intestinal tract begins). Bile is used to break down fats, and it also neutralizes the stomach acid present in the nutritional sludge entering the intestines. A branch duct from this main bile duct leads to the gallbladder where the liver’s surplus production of bile is stored for later use.
Once a normal quantity of bile has been introduced from the main source, the liver, if there is a triggering amount of fat in the food passing through, a hormone is released that causes the gall bladder to contract, squeezing extra needed bile from the gallbladder into the intestine. This system, of course, works as it should in a nutritionally and physically healthy person. However, blockages in the bile duct, caused by poor diet or illness, can lead to some symptoms indicating a blockage is present.
One of the more classic symptoms of bile duct blockage is commonly called jaundice. This is a condition wherein, because of a duct blockage, bile backs up into the liver. The bile begins circulating through the blood stream instead, and the pigment bilirubin gives the body a characteristic yellow color. Another clear symptom of a blocked bile duct is a severe pain in the upper right abdomen. This pain comes and goes, and is often accompanied by profuse sweating and vomiting. This condition is called biliary colic and it, too, is a clear indicator of gallstones or a blocked bile duct.
Treatments for minor blockages can be as simple as dietary changes, as most blockages are caused by cholesterol build-up. Medication can be used to dissolve obstructions, but these can take months to work sometimes. In more severe cases surgery is required to clear the duct of its obstruction. Symptoms of bile duct blockage, often confused with mild indigestion, heartburn, or excess stomach gas discomfort, can be misdiagnosed. Seeing a physician for persistent or recurrent abdominal pain or a change in skin coloration can point up a problem before it gets too severe, often leading to the need to remove a gallbladder.