Gallbladder Disease

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About Your Gallbladder?

Your gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ under your liver. Your gallbladder and several ducts (tubes) are part of the biliary system. The gallbladder acts as a storage tank for bile. Bile, also known as gall, is a fluid made by your liver to help digest fat. As your stomach and intestines digest food, your gallbladder releases bile through the common bile duct.

Can I live without my gallbladder?

You can live without your gallbladder. Similar to your tonsils, it serves a purpose but you can live a normal life without it.

About Gallbladder Disease

Gallbladder disease is very common, affecting about 10-15% of adults in Europe and the U.S. It is more common in women, Native Americans, Hispanics, the obese and people over age 40. Symptoms of gallbladder disease may include: pain in the upper right side or middle of the abdomen, abdominal fullness, clay-colored stool, fever, nausea and vomiting, or yellowing of skin and whites of eyes (jaundice).

Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease

  • Signs and symptoms of gallbladder disease are often caused by gallstones that block your bile ducts. Gallstones occur when bile hardens in your gallbladder.
  • Gallbladder symptoms are sometimes called “gallbladder attacks” because they can occur without warning. Gallbladder attacks often happen at night or after a high fat meal.
  • Steady pain in upper right side of your stomach
  • Pain increases quickly and lasts 30 minutes to several hours
  • Pain between your shoulder blades
  • Pain under your right shoulder
  • If your symptoms get worse or include a fever, see a doctor immediately. An attack often goes away when gallstones move, but your gallbladder can become infected and rupture if the blockage remains. That’s why it is important to let your doctor know if you think you had a gallbladder attack.

Severe Symptoms

See a doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms or if your symptoms get worse:

  • Pain that lasts more than 4 hours
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills or fever
  • Yellowish discoloration of the skin or whites of the eyes
  • Clay-colored stools

Asymptomatic Stones

If you have gallstones but no symptoms, these gallstones are called “asymptomatic stones”. They do not affect how your gallbladder, liver, or pancreas works.

Main Causes of Gallstones & Gallbladder Disease

Your gallbladder may cause symptoms if something blocks the flow of bile through your cystic duct. The most common cause of a blockage is a gallstone. Doctors believe stones form when bile has too much cholesterol or not enough bile salts. Stones can also form if the gallbladder does not empty correctly. And, just having gallstones can cause more gallstones to form.

Other Causes & Risk Factors

There are other common causes for gallstones, including:

  • Gender: Women are twice as likely as men to have gallstones. Extra estrogen from pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy, or birth control pills may raise cholesterol levels in bile and decrease gallbladder movement.
  • Genetics: Gallstones often run in families.
  • Weight: Even being slightly overweight raises your risk for gallstones. Obesity is a major risk factor for gallstones.
  • Diet: A diet high in fat and cholesterol and low in fiber can cause gallstones to form.
  • Rapid weight loss: Rapid weight loss, fasting and crash dieting can cause your liver to release extra cholesterol, which can cause gallstones.
  • Age: People over the age of 60 are more likely to develop gallstones.
  • Ethnicity: Native Americans and Latino men have higher rates of gallstones.
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs: Drugs that lower your cholesterol levels can increase the amount of cholesterol secreted into bile, which increases the risk of gallstones.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes often have high levels of fatty acids called triglycerides. These fatty acids may increase the risk of gallstones.
  • The cause of pigment gallstones is not fully understood. These stones tend to form in people who have liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), biliary tract infections, or hereditary blood disorders where the liver makes too much bilirubin (a waste product).