What is the gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located just under the liver. It holds digestive fluids, known as bile, which then releases to the small intestine. The gallbladder pushes this digestive fluid to aid digestion, and it specifically helps with digesting fat, although the gallbladder itself is not an essential organ. Gallbladder removal in a healthy individual causes no known health or digestive problems, although they may have to follow a stricter diet than before and limit dietary fats.
What Causes Gallstones?
Gallstones are small, crystal-like deposits found in the gallbladder, that form when fluids harden into pebble-like material. Sizes of gallstones vary widely, and they may be as tiny as a grain of sand or as big as a ping pong ball. There may be just one large stone or hundreds of small gallstones formed at the same time. Approximately 90% of gallstones are "silent," or cause no symptoms.
Gallstones may cause problems if the flow of bile is blocked, so the stones become lodged in the bile ducts. Blockage of these ducts can cause severe damage of infection of the gallbladder, liver or pancreas, over time. Left untreated, it can be fatal.
Symptoms of a “gallbladder attack” often occur suddenly, and may follow a high-fat meal or during the night. These attacks typically include:
- Persistent pain in the upper abdomen on the right side that increases rapidly
- Pain between the shoulder blades and under the right shoulder
- Fever or chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Clay-colored stool
In most cases, gallstones do not cause any problems or associated symptoms and may be left alone. However, in some cases, gallstones may cause blockages, leading to severe abdominal pain, jaundice, inflammation, or infection.
Gallstones can also cause more subtle symptoms, such as indigestion, nausea and bloating, especially after eating foods with a lot of fat. When pain does occur due to gallstones, it is commonly felt in the upper portion of the abdomen and can even be felt towards the back.
Once gallstones begin to cause pain, most patients will benefit from having their gallbladders removed. Because the gallbladder is a nonessential organ, it may be removed without dire consequences, because the liver produces sufficient bile to digest a normal diet. In 95% of medical cases, this removal can be done using minimally invasive laparoscopy, keeping scarring at a minimum, with four incisions in the stomach. The other 5% require “open” surgery, with a 5-8” incision across the abdomen, due to severe inflammation, infection or complex scarring from previous surgeries. Sometimes an open procedure is planned, but other times a surgeon will resort to an open procedure if laparoscopy proves impossible.
Gallbladder removal is commonly done as an outpatient procedure.
During the surgery, the surgeon carefully separates the gallbladder from the liver and other adjacent structures and removes the organ through one of the small incisions.
In special situations, such as a patient who has a serious condition which precludes surgery, medication may be utilized. However, most patients have recurrences of gallstones within 5 years of nonsurgical therapy.
Nonsurgical treatments may include oral dissolution therapy to dissolve gallstones with medication, or contact dissolution therapy to dissolve gallstones with injections.
After Gallstone Treatment
Patients who have had gallbladder surgery can generally return to their normal daily routines after 2 weeks, or possibly sooner.
Although unlikely, complications from gallbladder removal may occur. They can include injury to the bile ducts, mild injuries and need for additional surgery.
Most patients do not have to make changes to their lifestyle, but may experience more frequent and softer stools.
Gallstones can cause severe pain and discomfort, don't spend another minute suffering. West Medical can help diagnose and treat your condition so you no longer have to deal with gallstones. Want to learn more about gallstones? Please contact West Medical at (855) 690-0565, and our helpful medical staff will answer any questions you may have.
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