Gallbladder Disease and Gallstones

The gallbladder is a sac-like organ located under the liver. It is connected to the liver’s main bile duct, known as the common bile duct. It stores and concentrates bile produced in the liver, which aids in the digestion of fats. Bile is released from the gallbladder into the common bile duct which empties into the upper small intestine in response to food, especially fats. The most common forms of gallbladder disease are inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis) and gallstones (cholelithiasis), which are often related. Sometimes stones escape from the gallbladder into the common bile duct causing an infection called cholangitis. Pancreas irritation and inflammation, known as pancreatitis, occurs when a gallbladder stone impacts itself at the opening of the bile and pancreatic ducts into the intestine. Other gallbladder problems include growths of tissue in the gallbladder. These tissue growths can be benign polyps or cancerous tumors.

Symptoms

Symptoms of gallbladder disease and/or gallstones include:

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea or vomiting

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing gallbladder disease and/or gallstones include:

  • Gender: female
  • Age: 40 and over
  • Genetics: family history of gallbladder disease or gallstones
  • Ethnicity: Hispanic or American Indian
  • Obesity
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Pregnancy, especially multiple pregnancies
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Crohn’s disease

When to See a Doctor

If you have any symptoms you are concerned about or if your symptoms persist, it’s time to see a doctor. Screening for gallbladder disease is not routine and requires the expertise of a physician who has been trained to evaluate and diagnose conditions affecting the gallbladder.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for individuals with gallbladder disease and/or gallstones vary and may include the following:

  • ERCP for treatment of common bile duct stones
  • Surgery
  • Any combination of the above treatments

Diagnostic Testing

The foremost diagnostic “test” for any condition is a thorough exam and consultation with a physician, including a review of your individual and family history. In addition, your physician may recommend any of the following tests or procedures, which may provide further diagnostic value:

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests (which may include one or more of the following: ultrasound, x-ray, CT scan, MRI scan)

Prevention

  • Follow a special diet, low in fat
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Learn More

Learn more about gallbladder disease and gallstones with resources from the American College of Gastroenterology

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