The gallbladder is an organ shaped like a small sac and located right beneath the liver. More accurately, the gallbladder is firmly attached to the lower side of the liver by connective tissue. It is a part of a larger complex called hepatobiliary system, which encompasses the liver and biliary ducts, both intrahepatic (located inside the liver) and extrahepatic (located outside the liver). Biliary ducts conduct bile from the liver where it is created to the small intestine. One of the most important roles of bile is to help absorption of various fat-soluble nutrients. It also helps elimination of unwanted fat-soluble substances. Here are some of the most common problems associated with the gallbladder and the biliary system, and how to recognize them.
Gallstones are also called choleliths, and they can be formed in any part of the biliary system, but most commonly in the gallbladder. They are differently shaped pieces of solid material which appear due to high viscosity of the bile and specific environmental conditions in the gallbladder. A susceptibility to gallstone formation can be hereditary, but the lifestyle is also very important. Obese people practicing a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop this condition. It is more common in women because of the role of estrogen in its development.
Symptoms of gallstones include a dull pain or discomfort in the upper right portion of the abdomen, usually right below the ribs. The symptoms aggravate abruptly when the gallstone enters the smaller ducts leading from the gallbladder to the small intestine and get stuck inside of them. That stretches the wall of the ducts causing severe pain (also called biliary colic), nausea, and vomiting. Gallstones can also block the evacuation of bile from the gallbladder, causing increased pressure in the upper biliary ducts and subsequent accumulation of bilirubin in the blood. A person with increased bilirubin levels will have their eye sclera and skin colored yellow (jaundice or icterus).
The treatment includes anti-inflammatory and spasmolitic drugs to relieve the acute symptoms. That should be followed by planning surgical intervention to remove the gallstone(s). Today, in most cases, a laparoscopic procedure can be performed in order to avoid complications and speed up the recovery. Persons with gallstones should avoid food rich in fat and cholesterol as it can provoke the acute phase with severe symptoms.
Cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder. It is most commonly caused by gallstones, but other factors include infection, alcohol abuse, tumors, and injuries. The symptoms include different types of pain in the upper right portion of abdomen, and often nausea and vomiting. It is diagnosed by ultrasound imaging and blood test results, and treated differently depending on the cause.
Gallbladder cancer is the most severe disease of the gallbladder, but luckily, it is not very common. It can cause abdominal pain and discomfort, but it is usually asymptomatic at first. If removed during the early stages, the chances of survival are very good. However, the lack of symptoms during the first stage causes it to be diagnosed late frequently, usually after it already produced metastases in other organs. The treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
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