The gallbladder is an organ that is present on the lower side of the liver. This organ stores the bile juices and excretes it to the small intestine that helps in the digestion of fats and other foods. The bile juices are produced in the liver and are passed through a tube called the bile duct. The bile duct connects the gallbladder with small intestine where further digestion takes place.

Complications can arise when the flow of bile becomes obstructed inside the bile duct due to small, hard pellets called gallstones. When things back up, inflammation and potentially deadly medical complications start to build up.

Gallstones can lead to severe pain in the adbomen (called biliary colic), that will definitely require a trip to the hospital. This is due to large gallstone (larger than a cm) trying to pass through your bile duct, which can be between 2 and 11 mm, the average being about 6mm in diameter.

As a comparison, you are trying to pass a large pea through the straw ... it will likely shred the straw first. Ouch!

(Image by Hey Paul Studios)

Causes of Gallstones:

  • Excess cholesterol in the bile due to a high-fat diet and low amounts of fiber. This results in the crystal formation of cholesterol, which form into stones within the gallbladder.
  • Bilirubin (red blood cell waste) builds up in the body due to liver damage, a tumor or other disorder. The excess bilirubin can result in gallstone formation and blocked bile ducts, which in turns creates more excess bilirubin.
  • When the gallbladder does not empty itself completely, there is a risk of the bile within becoming concentrated. Over time, this can lead to the creation of gallstones.

Symptoms (Or, Oooooh, You'll Know!):

  • Intense pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen. The pain is so severe many patients pass out. This happens when a gallstone gets stuck in the bile duct, blocking the flow of bile juices and causing inflammation. Death can occur if not treated.
  • Intense pain in centre of the stomach. This kind of pain is usually on the edge of the breastbone and feels like bad heartburn.
  • Pain between the shoulder blades and on the right shoulder
  • High fever with chills and yellowing of the skin (jaundice). This is caused by the dangerous build-up bile due to the blocked duct, which causes liver damage. Medical attention is required immediately.

Sometimes there are no symptoms. This is because the gallstone is small enough to pass through the bile duct without causing complications. No treatment is necessary.

In cases where surgery is required, patients may request the removal of the gallstones but not the removal of the gallbladder. This isn't advisable. Doctors have claimed that once a gallbladder starts forming stones, it will continue to do so. This increases the chances of these gallstones causing more damage and complications to the body if the future.

Treatment

Treatment will almost always involves surgery that will remove the gallbladder (a cholecystectomy). Thankfully, the gallbladder is one such organ that can be removed without causing much trouble to the body. The bile juices, instead of being stored in the gallbladder, will now flow directly to the small intestine.

Some patients who have had their gallbladder removed have reported no digestive problems. Others have had troubles, such as bloating, diarreha and other stomach upset.

There is no way of knowing who will have troubles and who won't, but the best course of action is to limit your intake of friend, greasy and fatty foods that will force the liver to dump a large amount of bile to help digest this. Lighter meals will mean less intense digestion.

There are cases where surgery is not an option. Medication top dissolve the stone is available, though it may take months or even years to completely dissolve a gallstone. These drugs only work for cholesterol stones.

Your Post-Surgery Lifestyle

The patient can fully recover within a few days of the surgery. However, doctors advise to limit the intake of fatty foods, which can cause stomach upset.

The largest complaint is diarrhea. This is due to bile constantly flowing from your liver into your small intestine, since there is no where now to store it. Too much bile causes soft stools.

Another problem is too little bile. Since there is now no regulation, there will be no onrush of bile triggered due to a fatty meal. This could cause lots of stomach upset and bloating. One solution is taking bile salts as a supplement to aid in the digestion of meals. Some people has success, while others said it caused more problems, so it has mixed results.

Whether or not you keep your gallbladder, it is very important to eat a balanced diet high in fiber and water to help with digestion. You can certainly live without your gallbladder, but keep a careful check on your health - the reason you developed gallstones in the first place could be poor lifestyle choices - something you will want to change to stay healthy for the future.

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