Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Gallbladders
Have you ever given much thought to your gallbladder?
What is a gallbladder?
What does the gallbladder do?
How can you help it stay healthy?
Why might you need to have it removed?
Learn all the gallbladder in this lens!
What Is A Gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a small, pear shaped organ that is responsible for storing bile.
Where Is The Gallbladder Located?
The gallbladder is located in the upper, right quadrant of the abdomen. That means, it's located on the right side of your body, underneath the ribcage. In relation to other organs, it is found a bit below the liver, hiding behind it. The gallbladder only has one duct which is used for bile going in and out. This duct, called the cystic duct, is connected to the common bile duct which also connects the liver to the small intestine.
What Does A Gallbladder Do?
The gallbladder's functions is to store bile. Bile is a digestive liquid that is created by the liver and continually secreted into the gallbladder. After a meal the gallbladder releases the bile through the cystic duct, to the common bile duct and finally into the duodenum (part of the small intestine). Once there the bile helps digest fats and neutralize acid in the partially digested food.
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com
Is The Gallbladder Really Green?
Well, yes and no. The gallbladder itself is not green but the bile inside the gallbladder is. So, when your gallbladder is full of bile it appears to be a greenish color. When the gallbladder is empty it's more of a pinkish color.
When Gallbladders Attack
This little guy on the right doesn't look like it could cause a lot of damage, does he? Well, looks can be deceiving!
Sometimes gallbladders get sick and cause a lot of issues for the person they are residing in. There are a few different things that can wrong wrong with the gallbladder which I will summarize here.
What Are Gallstones?
Gallstones are a buildup of some of the chemicals found in bile. They are composed of cholesterol, calcium bilirubinate, and calcium carbonate. These chemicals build up and form hard stones that become trapped in the gallbladder or bile duct.
Gallstones can cause terrible pain as the gallbladder tries to squeeze the stone through the bile duct. Gallstones are also the number 1 cause of gallbladder infection. It is estimated that 20 million Americans have gallstones.
What Is Cholecystitis?
Cholecystitis is a condition in which bile becomes trapped in the gallbladder. This trapped bile builds up causing pressure and irritation in the gallbladder which can lead to infection and eventually, perforation of the gallbladder.
Cholecystitis is most often caused by gallstones but it is occasionally caused by severe illness and gallbladder tumors. Cholecystitis may be further classified as Acute or Chronic. Acute refers to a rapid onset of the condition that has a short but often severe course. Chronic refers to a long term or recurring problem.
What is Acalculous Cholecystopathy?
Acalculous Cholecystopathy is a more specific name for Cholecystitis when it is not caused by gallstones. Sometimes the gallbladder walls thicken for unknown reasons but some suspects include serious infections (such as HIV or Typhoid) and pregnancy hormones. Acalculous Cholecystopathy can become quite serious, risks include infection and perforation of the gallbladder.
Gallbladder Disorder Risk Factors
Who Is At Risk For Gallbladder Problems?
While no one is immune to getting gallstones or gallbladder infection, there are several factors which put you at higher risk for developing stones.
The most common risk factors is are referred to as the Four F's. The Four F's are Fat (overweight), Female, Forty (an age at or above 40 years), Fertile (not menopausal). Your diet can also increase your risk as gallstones seem more prevalent in people who eat a high fat or high cholesterol diet. A family history of gallstones may also increase your risk.
Who Is Most At Risk For Gallbladder Disease?
Gallstones occur most often in people who are over 40. Woman are at more risk than men and pregnancy increases that risk. People who are obese are also at a higher risk of having gallstones.
Most gallstones don't cause illness or symptoms. These are called "silent stones" and do not require treatment. Silent Stones occur when the stones are small enough to pass through the bile ducts without causing a blockage.
Gallstones cause problems when the become stuck in the bile duct or irritate the lining of the gallbladder and cause infection. Symptoms of gallstones and Cholecystitis include:Pain in the upper right abdomen, just below the ribcage.Pain is usually sudden and often severe. Pain that radiates to the back, between the shoulder blades or under the right shoulder. Nausea Vomiting Indigestion Abdominal Bloating Gas (belching and flatulence) Chills, sweating and fever Clay Colored Stools Jaundice
When To See The Doctor
You should always consult your doctor when you are having symptoms that worry you. Ongoing gallbladder attacks and pain would certainly warrant a visit to the doctor so that the condition can be caught before it gets too serious.
When Seek Immediate Care
Call your doctor immediately if you are showing signs of serious gallbladder complications, such as:Intense abdominal pain that prevents you from sitting still and is not improved by changing position.Yellowing of the whites of your eyes or skin (jaundice) High fever
How Are Gallbladder Disorders Treated?
If you suspect you have Gallstones or Cholecystitis you are probably wondering what the treatment options will be.Surgery To Remove the Gallbladder If you have gallstones or Cholecystitis and it is causing you pain your doctor will probably recommend surgery to remove the gallbladder. Gallbladder Surgery (Cholecystectomy) is the most common surgery preformed in the United States and it is a fairly easy procedure. Learn more about Gallbladder surgery and recovery.Medicine to Dissolve Gallstones There are some medications available which can be taken to dissolve gallstones. This treatment can take months to effectively dissolve the stones and stones will often reform, especially if the patient does not change their lifestyle. This treatment is usually only used for patients who can not have surgery.
Do Gallstones That Don't Cause Symptoms Need To Be Treated?
If your gallstones are asymptomatic (not causing pain or other problems) then you will likely not need treatment. In most asymptomatic cases your doctor will advise you to be alert for signs of gallbladder complications which might mean that you will need treatment.
When the gallbladder starts forming stones or stops working it is usually recommended that the patient has the gallbladder removed. Gallbladder Removal Surgery (Cholecystectomy) is the most effective method for treating gallstones and gallbladder infection. It is also one of the most commonly preformed surgeries in the United States. Ignoring the problem can lead to serious infection which could eventually cause the gallbladder to burst, a very serious condition that can lead to death.
What is Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy?
Laparoscopic is s type of surgery that enables a surgeon to operate on a person using advanced technology that only requires a few small incisions. This is also known as "band-aid" or "belly button" surgery and is becoming more common for many different surgical procedures. Cholecystectomy simply means the removal of the gallbladder.
How Is Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy Preformed?
Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy is done under general anesthesia. The surgeon first makes an incision either above, below or within the belly button itself (exact location depends on the patient and the surgeon). The surgeon inflates the abdomen with carbon dioxide which makes it easier to see the organs and provides room for the surgery. A thin tube carrying a video camera is then inserted into this belly button incision. Two or three more incisions are made in the right side of the abdomen. These incisions allow the surgeon to insert small instruments into the abdomen that will act like the surgeon's hand throughout the surgery. The surgeon uses these instruments to clip the bile duct and remove the gallbladder. Recovery is much quicker when surgery is done this way and there is less chance of complications.
What is Open Cholecystectomy?
Sometimes gallbladder removal surgery can not be preformed laparoscopically. In these cases, an Open Cholecystectomy is done to remove the gallbladder. Open Cholecystectomy means that instead of 3-4 small incisions, the surgeon will have to make one large incision to gain access to the gallbladder. Once the incision is made, the surgeon uses tools to clip the bile duct and remove the gallbladder. Open Cholecystectomy has a longer healing time than the laparoscopic method and leaves a bigger scar.
Videos about the Gallbladder and Surgery
Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy Recovery
Recovery after Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy is generally faster than recovery from Open Cholecystectomy. Most patients who undergo Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy will be able to go home that same day as surgery. Generally, patients are not allowed to leave the hospital until they are able to hold down water and urinate. A patient may also be required to stay longer if any complications arise.
The patient should not be left alone or allowed to drive for the first 24 hours after surgery. This is because it takes at least 24 hours for the anesthesia to completely clear itself from the body. Patients should also stick to a diet of clear liquids for the first 24 hours. Nausea and vomiting are normal for the first 24 hours but if it lasts any longer the patient should consult with their doctor.
Shoulder pain following Laparoscopic gallbladder removal is a common complaint. This is caused by the gas that was used to inflate the abdomen during surgery and should clear up in 2-3 days.
Most doctors give patients a lifting restriction after gallbladder surgery. Patients are usually told not to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for 2 weeks. This restriction gives your abdominal muscles time to heal from the incisions.
On average, patients who undergo Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy return to work in 3-7 days. Some people return to work with only one day of recovery while others require longer recovery time. If your job requires heavy lifting and manual labor you will need a longer recovery time.
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Open Cholecystectomy Recovery Time
Patients who undergo Open Cholecystectomy generally require a week long stay in the hospital. The incision with an open surgery is usually around 6 inches long and needs to be monitored closely for signs of infection. The longer incision also does more damage to the abdominal wall which can make the healing process more painful and inhibit mobility.
Most patients who have open surgery are restricted from lifting anything over 10 pounds for at least 4 weeks. Strenuous activity is also discouraged for at least 4 weeks post-op although walking is encouraged.
Patients who work in an office setting usually return to work 1-2 weeks after their release from the hospital. The patient may require 4-5 weeks to return to work for jobs that require heavy lifting and manual labor.
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