What is a Gallbladder?
The gallbladder(GB) is a small “sac” like structure that sits in the right upper part of the abdomen. It is attached to the liver. The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver. The bile is released into the small intestine by the gallbladder to aid in digestion of fats and other nutrients.
Since the GB is just a storage organ, humans can survive without the GB without any problems or complications.
Unfortunately the GB can become diseased or develop stones which then lead to symptoms requiring medical care.
What is a Gallstone?
Gallstones form when hard cholesterol crystals grow into stones inside the gallbladder. There are two different types of gallstones, Cholesterol gallstones, which are the most common and Pigment gallstones.
Research has shown that gallstones form due to changes in the bile, meaning the bile contains too much bilirubin. Gallstones may also be a result of things such as high cholesterol levels. Some people get elevated cholesterol levels due to age, or their liver produces too much cholesterol and therefore there may be excess cholesterol and the bile is unable to dissolve it all. The gallbladder also contracts to release bile and if this mechanism is not working properly this can lead to “stasis” of bile which leads to gallstones. Gallstones are very common in women and men. There does also appear to be a genetic predisposition to forming gallstones. Gallbladder surgery is the second most common surgery done in the USA.
Risk factors for gallstones
These are some risk factors that may increase your risk for gallstones:
Age 40 and over
Being too sedentary
Eating a high fat diet
Family history of gallstones
Losing weight very quickly
Sickle cell disease
Possible complications from gallstones
Gallstone disease varies from mild to serious. Most people experience “biliary colic”, which is pain/nausea/bloating after eating. In this situation the GB can be removed electively to prevent the more serious complications.
Gallstones can cause the duct that drains bile to become blocked. This then leads to build up of bacteria which leads to infection (Cholecystitis). This is a serious condition and requires urgent surgery to remove the GB.
It is also possible for the gallstones to become stuck in the Main bile ducts and prevent the normal flow of bile in the body and cause Jaundice. This can cause a serious infection called “cholangitis” and needs emergent removal of the stone.
Gallstones can also cause pancreatitis which is a serious condition that requires treatment in the hospital.
Symptoms of Gallstones
Symptoms of gallstones do vary they can be mild or severe. The symptoms include sudden pain in the abdomen, or around your stomach chest or back that quickly intensifies. Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps or cramping which can be mild or severe. Bloating is also common after eating. Fever or chills can also be present if the gallbladder is inflamed/infected.
Some patients experience similar symptoms to a heart attack. Pain radiating into the chest, reflux, and burning situation in the upper abdomen/chest. Many times a suspected heart attack is actually Gallbladder disease.
These symptoms may last for a few days a week or longer.