What Does It Do?
The gallbladder's job is to store and release bile, a fluid made
by the liver. Bile breaks down fats in the foods you eat and helps digestion.
Bile usually flows smoothly from the gallbladder into the rest of the
digestive system. If gallstones form, the stones can block the release
of bile, and can cause the symptoms listed below. Sometimes the gallbladder
can function poorly without gallstones being present.
Gallbladder problems can have various symptoms. You may feel severe
stomach pain, shoulder pain, back pain, pain under your breastbone,
heartburn, upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting. The symptoms may come
and go and recur. If you have gallbladder disease the symptoms may worsen
if not treated.
Those most likely to have gallbladder conditions include:
- Women, often in their 40s.
- Women who are or recently have been pregnant.
- Men and women who are overweight.
- Parents, siblings, and children of people with gallbladder problems.
Certain foods may make gallbladder conditions worse. These include
fried foods, oils, high-fat dairy products, and spicy or peppery meals.
You need to have your condition evaluated by your physician, who
will schedule some tests to find out if you have a problem with your
gallbladder. Your doctor may suggest one or more of these tests:
- Ultrasound uses sound waves to scan your abdomen for gallstones.
- Blood tests can suggest stones in your common bile duct.
- Imaging tests such as CT (computerized tomography),
a HIDA (hepatobiliary) scan, or an ERCP (endoscopic
retrograde cholangiopancreatography) can produce images of your gallbladder
and/or test your gallbladder function.
Your physician may suggest that you have your gallbladder removed. It
is important to know that gallbladder surgery is one of the most successful
types of surgery and you can live a healthy life without your gallbladder.
Your options include either a laparoscopic or open cholecystectomy
to remove your gallbladder. The laparoscopic approach is preferred because
it can be performed in an outpatient setting and you can normally go
home the same day. In the laparoscopic approach a laparoscope (telescope
camera) is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen and used
to view the gallbladder. Surgical instruments are inserted through other
incisions and the gallbladder is removed through an incision near the
If the open approach is dictated, the gallbladder is removed through
a single incision made in the abdomen. When an open cholecystectomy
is performed, the patient will be required to stay in the hospital for
several days to insure that the incision is healing properly.
You will schedule an appointment with your surgeon about a week or
so after surgery for a recheck.
For either surgery complications are rare but include:
- Injury to surrounding organs
- Injury to the common bile duct
- Blood clots
- Neuroma (painful spot) or numbness near the incision
- Continued formation of stones in the common bile duct