The gallbladder is a 4-inch-long pear-shaped sack located beneath the liver. It stores the bile produced by the liver and sends it down to the small intestine. Bile, in turn, breaks down fat. This allows nutrients to be better absorbed into your bloodstream.
Like any organ, the gallbladder can develop diseases. Most people have heard of gallstones, the hard particles that build up inside the gallbladder when it doesn’t empty fully or correctly. This disease is called choledocholithiasis. But other diseases can afflict your gallbladder as well.
Acalculous gallbladder disease describes the inflammation of the gallbladder, even when no gallstones are present. An underperforming gallbladder is afflicted with biliary dyskinesia. Sclerosing cholangitis refers to ongoing inflammation in the bile ducts, which causes them to scar. While all these diseases are serious, gallbladder cancer and gangrene of the gallbladder are even more so.
Here are some signs and symptoms that your gallbladder might not be working as it should.
Abdominal Pain and Distension
Your first clue that something’s wrong with your gallbladder will usually be intense pain in the right side of your middle or upper abdomen. This pain can be constant or intermittent, but it will come on suddenly. It may then spread to the center of your abdomen, your right shoulder, or your back between your shoulder blades. The pain could be more severe after eating, especially if you’ve consumed a high-fat meal.
Abdominal pain is a symptom of many ailments, from appendicitis to irritable bowel syndrome. So if this is the only symptom you’re experiencing, gallbladder disease may not be the cause. Regardless, if you have abdominal pain for more than five consecutive hours, you should seek urgent medical attention.
If you do have gallbladder disease, you may experience symptoms of gallbladder disease such as abdominal distension and bloating, as your gallbladder is likely inflamed.
Nausea or Vomiting
There are many potential reasons you might be nauseous or vomiting. Some, like having stomach flu or food poisoning, are unpleasant but usually don’t have serious ramifications for your health. But if your stomach issues are occurring in conjunction with intense abdominal pain, you may well be suffering from gallbladder disease.
Having a fever or chill can also be a symptom of gallbladder disease. On its own, it is more likely an indicator of something else, like a common cold or flu.
Changes in Your Bowel Movements
Unexplained changes in your bowel movements are another potential gallbladder disease symptom. This includes chronic diarrhea, which is defined as having more than four bowel movements a day for a least three months. A blocked bile duct may lead you to produce light-colored stools and dark urine, as your body is unable to digest nutrients correctly.
When the gallbladder can’t transmit bile to the intestines, waste material builds up in the blood. This leads to jaundice, the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. When jaundice occurs, it is accompanied by the other symptoms listed, as well as fatigue and itchiness. There are several potential causes of jaundice in adults, but gallbladder disease is by far the most likely.
How to Treat Gallbladder Disease
Medications can be used to treat gallbladder infections and reduce the size of gallstones. Many gallstones go away on their own. Exercise and a healthy diet low in trans fats can also help improve circulation and gallstone function.
In cases of gallbladder malfunction, your doctor may recommend that you undergo surgery to have the organ removed. This is often an outpatient procedure.
For more information on outpatient medical care and specialty surgery, contact BASS Medical Group at (925) 350-4044.