Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped, sac-like organ in your abdomen under your liver. Its main purpose is to store bile from the liver and deliver it to the small intestine, helping to properly digest fats that have been consumed.
Bile contains acids which are critical for the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. When you eat high-fat or high-cholesterol foods, your gallbladder contracts and sends bile into your duodenum (the first part of your small intestine) via the common bile duct.
In a healthy gallbladder, this process happens naturally and painlessly; but if a blockage occurs or it stops functioning correctly, it can cause significant pain and discomfort. Gallbladder diseases are caused by conditions that slow or block the flow of bile from the gallbladder, such as inflammation or gallstones.
Let’s take a look at the various types of gallbladder diseases:
Gallstones are solid particles of digestive fluid, often made up of cholesterol, that result from an imbalance of bile components. In many cases, gallstones do not produce symptoms and do not require treatment; but if a gallstone becomes trapped in an opening inside the gallbladder, it can cause a strong, sudden pain in your right upper abdomen.
The pain usually begins about 30 minutes after eating a high-fat meal. The pain may even spread to your shoulder and back, and it can feel worse at night. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, fever, and indigestion.
Cholelithiasis refers to the presence of gallstones in the gallbladder, and choledocholithiasis refers to gallstones in the common bile duct.
Porcelain gallbladder is a condition where the muscular walls of the gallbladder develop a buildup of calcium. It is associated with chronic gallbladder inflammation and can often be triggered by an excess of gallstones. The name porcelain gallbladder refers to the bluish discoloration and brittle consistency of the gallbladder wall in this condition.
Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder that most commonly occurs when there is an obstruction between the gallbladder and the common bile duct. The condition is usually caused by gallstones, but other less common causes of blockages include severe illness, tumors, and alcohol abuse.
The blockage creates a buildup of bile in the gallbladder which can cause inflammation, irritation, and pressure. It can then lead to bacterial infections and a perforated gallbladder (tearing of the gallbladder), which can allow a severe, widespread infection to spread into other parts of the body.
Cholecystitis can be acute or chronic:
Acute cholecystitis occurs suddenly and can lead to complications, such as gangrene caused by inadequate blood flow and abscesses where the gallbladder becomes inflamed with pus.
Chronic cholecystitis is caused by repeated episodes of acute cholecystitis. Chronic cholecystitis causes the gallbladder walls to thicken and the gallbladder to decrease in size. Eventually, the gallbladder loses its ability to function completely.
Acalculous Gallbladder Disease
Acalculous gallbladder disease is inflammation of the gallbladder without the presence of gallstones. A significant physical trauma, chronic illness, or serious medical condition (such as lupus) have been shown to trigger an episode. Symptoms are similar to acute cholecystitis with gallstones.
Sclerosing cholangitis is scarring to the bile duct system caused by ongoing inflammation and damage. The exact cause of the disease is still unknown, but many people with the condition also have ulcerative colitis (a condition causing inflammation of the colon and rectum). Symptoms can include a fever, jaundice, itching, and upper abdominal pain, but a lot of people with the condition don’t have symptoms.
Biliary dyskinesia occurs when the gallbladder doesn’t function normally. It may be a result of ongoing gallbladder inflammation.
Eating a fatty meal may trigger symptoms, which can include upper abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, and indigestion. Gallstones are not usually present with biliary dyskinesia.
Gallbladder polyps are growths that occur in the gallbladder. The polyps often have no symptoms and aren’t usually harmful; but if they grow to be too large, removal is recommended as they have a greater chance of becoming cancerous.
Cancer of the gallbladder is relatively rare, and there are different types of gallbladder cancers. Gallbladder cancer can spread from the inner walls to the outer layer of the gallbladder and then on to the liver, lymph nodes, and other organs.
The symptoms can be similar to those of acute cholecystitis, but sometimes there are no symptoms at all. Cancer of the gallbladder can be difficult to treat because diagnosis can come too late in to the disease’s progression.
Risk factors can include gallstones, porcelain gallbladder, obesity, and advanced age. It is more common in women than in men.
Treatment for Gallbladder Diseases
The treatment you receive depends on the degree of your gallbladder disease, severity of gallstones, or symptoms. Many people with gallstones do not have symptoms and do not need treatment, and some cases of cholecystitis can improve with medication such as antibiotics.
However, when symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend diagnostic testing such as an abdominal CT scan or an ultrasound. These are considered to be excellent methods for identifying gallbladder issues.
If surgery is required, a laparoscopic cholecystectomy may be the solution to remove the gallbladder and the gallstones. A laparoscopic cholecystectomy is a quick procedure which uses a laparoscope (a thin tube with a small lighted camera at the end) to guide the surgery, and it involves very small incisions – which shortens the recovery time.
Experienced Gastroenterologists in Carlisle, PA
If you are experiencing any unusual abdominal or digestive symptoms and would like expert advice and treatment, contact our team at US Digestive Health today at (717) 245-2228 to schedule an appointment or use the online appointment request form.
You don’t have to live with unpleasant, uncomfortable symptoms – get back to a happy, healthier you by calling us today!