Gallbladder Diseases and Problems

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1 Gallbladder Diseases and Problems Introduction Your gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ under your liver. It stores bile, a fluid made by your liver to digest fat. There are many diseases and problems that can affect your gallbladder. Treatment depends on the cause. It often includes surgery to remove the gallbladder. Other treatments may also be available. This reference summary explains gallbladder diseases and problems. It talks about common diseases and problems that affect the gallbladder. The Gallbladder The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ. It lies just under the liver in the upper right abdomen. Special digestive juices called bile are made in the liver. Excess bile is stored in the gallbladder. Gallbladder When you eat fatty foods, the gallbladder contracts. This pushes the bile into a tube called the cystic duct. From the cystic duct, the bile flows to the small intestines through the common bile duct. In the small intestines, the bile helps with digestion. When the gallbladder is removed surgically, the body can still digest food. Bile is no longer stored. Instead, the liver can empty the bile directly into the small intestines. General Symptoms Not all gallbladder diseases and problems have the same symptoms. But there are some common symptoms. 1

2 Common symptoms of gallbladder diseases and problems are: Abdominal pain after eating fatty foods. Bloating. Jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Loss of appetite. Nausea or vomiting. Pain in the right side of the abdomen. Some gallbladder diseases and problems may also cause: Chills. Fever. Itchiness all over the body. Lumps in the abdomen. Sweating. Unplanned weight loss. Talk to your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms. These symptoms may be caused by gallbladd er problems or there may be another cause. The next few sections will talk about common gallbladder diseases and problems. These include: Gallstones. Cholecystitis. Gallbladder cancer. Gallstones Stones can form in the gallbladder. These stones are called gallstones. Gallstones form when substances in bile harden. Gallstones are a relatively common condition. Some people can have gallstones and not even know it. Gallstones do not always cause symptoms, but when they do, treatment is needed. Gallstones can move and block the cystic duct. Bile cannot drain from the gallbladder when the cystic duct is blocked. This can cause severe pain in the abdomen. 2

3 Pain caused by gallstones usually gets worse after eating fatty foods. The gallbladder tries to empty bile into the intestines to digest the fat. But the stones may prevent the bile from leaving. A stone may also get stuck in the common bile duct. The common bile duct connects the cystic duct to the small intestine. Diet changes can sometimes help people with gallstones. Avoiding fatty foods is important. If gallstones have caused an infection, antibiotics can help. But antibiotics do not get rid of the gallstones. New infections and other problems may happen. Taking the gallbladder out is usually needed to control symptoms caused by gallstones. Fortunately, the gallbladder is an organ you can live without. It can be surgically removed. Surgery to remove the gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy. Most of the bile made in the liver flows directly to the intestine. Only a small amount is stored in the gallbladder. This is why removing the gallbladder is not a problem. The bile can still flow to the intestines and help with digestion. Sometimes gallstones may have gotten stuck in one or more of the bile ducts. If a gallstone is in a bile duct, it will be removed at the same time as the gallbladder. Cholecystitis Cholecystitis is inflammation of the gallbladder. In most cases, it is caused by gallstones blocking the bile ducts. When bile cannot drain out of the gallbladder through the bile ducts, it builds up in the gallbladder. This causes the gallbladder to become inflamed. The gallbladder may become inflamed for reasons other than gallstones. It may happen when the bile ducts are scarred or damaged. Tumors may also block the bile ducts. These problems prevent bile from draining out of the gallbladder. Cholecystitis can cause serious problems. Bile will continue to build up in the gallbladder until it is treated. The gallbladder can become infected. It can even rupture, or break open. Cholecystitis 3

4 If the inflammation lasts a long time, the gallbladder can become scarred. The walls of the gallbladder may get thick. In these cases, the gallbladder usually contains sludge. Sludge is tiny particles in the bile. The particles are made of substances similar to those in gallstones. Treatment often includes hospitalization. This is to reduce inflammation. You may not be allowed to eat or drink for a while. You may also be given antibiotics to prevent infection. Once the inflammation is under control, the gallbladder is usually taken out surgically. The gallbladder can become inflamed again if it is not removed. Gallbladder Cancer Cancer begins in the body s cells. Cells are the building blocks of the body. Normal cells in the body grow and die in a controlled way. Sometimes cells keep dividing and growing in an uncontrolled way. This causes an abnormal growth called a tumor. If the tumor does not invade nearby tissues and body parts, it is called a benign tumor. A benign tumor is a non-cancerous growth. Benign tumors are usually not life threatening. If the tumor invades nearby tissues and body parts, it is called a malignant tumor, or cancer. Cancer cells spread to different parts of the body through blood vessels and lymph channels. Cancers in the body are given names, depending on where the cancer started. Cancer that begins in the gallbladder will always be called gallbladder cancer, even if it spreads to other places. Gallbladder cancer is not very common. Women are at an increased risk for developing gallbladder cancer. Women are twice as likely as men to have gallbladder cancer. Native Americans are also at an increased risk for developing gallbladder cancer. A person s risk for developing gallbladder cancer increases with age. The risk for developing gallbladder cancer increases if a person has other gallbladder diseases, such as gallstones. But the chance of developing gallbladder cancer is still very low for these people. 4

5 Treatment for gallbladder cancer may involve surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Some combination of these treatments may also be used. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing and spreading. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Summary Your gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ under your liver. It stores bile, a fluid made by your liver, to digest fat. Some diseases or problems that affect the gallbladder include: Gallstones. Cholecystitis. Gallbladder cancer. Not all gallbladder diseases and problems have the same symptoms. But there are some common symptoms, such as: Abdominal pain after eating fatty foods. Jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Loss of appetite. Nausea or vomiting. Pain in the right side of the abdomen. Treatment for gallbladder diseases and problems depends on the cause. It often includes surgery to remove the gallbladder. Other treatments may also be available. 5

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