- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
The Silent Killer: Gallbladder Disease
What is it?
You have just had a lovely dinner with you family, consisting of a couple of nice t-bone steaks with baked potatoes, lightly steamed spring peas and triple "devil" chocolate cake for dessert and you are feeling kind of stuffed. As you sit down to digest, you feel this sharp, intense, stabbing pain on the right side of your body, about where your liver is. It causes you some mild, immediate discomfort, but quickly subsides. You make a note to talk to the doc about it on your next visit. Later that night you wake from a very peaceful sleep with intense, seering pain that radiates from the end of your sternum straight back and wraps around the right side of your body. You huddle on the bathroom floor while your husband calls for the ambulance. What you have just experienced is a Gallbladder or Gallstone attack, depending on who you talk to. These attacks can be mild and quick or severe and painfull long. Knowing your risks can help to prevent these attacks.
Where is the Gallbladder?
Your gallbladder is a pear-shaped (sometimes tear shaped) organ under your liver. It stores bile, a fluid made by your liver to digest fat. As your stomach and intestines digest food, your gallbladder releases bile through a tube called the bile duct, which then leads into the common bile duct. The duct connects your gallbladder and liver to your small intestine. This duct also connects the pancreas with the other digestive organs.
What is the disease about?
Gallbladder disease is one of the most common and costly of all digestive diseases because treatment generally requires surgery and hospitalization. About one million Americans are diagnosed with gallbladder disease each year, and in total, about 20 million Americans are living with the disease - about 6.3 million men and 14.2 million women. Yes ladies, you are more likely to get or already have this disease on board than your husband.Your gallbladder is most likely to give you trouble if something blocks the flow of bile through the bile ducts. That is usually a gallstone. Gallstone attacks usually happen after you eat as in the example listed above, but not always. The combination of a "civilized" diet, of saturated fats, fried foods, hydrogenated (or fake) fats and white sugar, white flour, highly processed, nutrient stripped foods, along with a sednetary lifestyle tends to create an environment ripe for the formation of gallstones and other gallbladder problems. Eating too many of the wrong fats puts you at risk, but people who do not eat enough fats can also be at risk to. Not enough fats causes the gallbladder to atrophy and cause bile thickening.
What are the symptoms?
Not every persons symptoms will be the same, but here is a complete list of the known symptoms for both gallstone and gallbladder attacks. Please note that these attacks can be very scary and often it is best if you have someone nearby to provide help and support during these attacks. Often if you are having one attack of one kind, the second kind is usually happening at the same time. If the attack does not clear itself within an 1 hour and 30 minutes SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION.
- Sudden tight or tense feeling at the bottom of the sternum
- constant tenderness
- mild to severe discomfort
- Moderate to severe pain on the right side under rib cage
- pain radiating to the back and shoulder of the right side
- severe abdominal pain
- burning sensation in right side
- cold sensation in right side
- pain upon intake of breathe
- possible chills
What happens during an attack?
When you are having an attack one of two things are happening: 1) You are passing some very acidic bile and it is burning the common bile duct as it leaves the gallbladder or 2) you are trying to pass a stone that may or may not be bigger than the actual duct. If it is the former, than things should settle down within a couple of hours. If it is the later, however, the attck will continue to be very painful and could last for a while until it clears the system. These attacks happen when the gallbladder squeezes out the old bile to make room for the new. Usually it will completely empty itself on its own, but in the increasing majority of women who have this disease, the gallbladder does not completely empty itself and stones begin to form. So the next time that it goes to empty out, a stone or two comes with it. Try no to panic when having one of these attacks, as it will only make you more tense than you already are. Practice deep or shallow breaths, depending on pain level. Your body will tell you when the attack has passed, as you will often feel completely drained of energy you had before the attack and often will need to use the restroom as the body releases the offending stone(s). However, be very aware that if a stone gets stuck in the section of the tube where the pancreas joins the system, GO GET MEDICAL ATTENTION. This can lead to pancreatitis, which if not treated could lead to pancreatice cancer.
What is the treatment?
Most of the time ther gallbladder will either quiet down or need to be removed. Often the removal is the best course of action, as the human body can and does live without the annoying little organ. Laproscopic surgery is the surgery of choice, and there is quick healing and turnaround time for the patient.
What are the risks?
Here are the most common risk factors for this disease:
- birth control pills
- cholesterol issues
- thytoid problems
- dieting of any kind
- sudden weight loss
- sudden weigh gain
- digestive diseases (such as Crohns, etc)
The biggest risk factor is genetic. I am a fourth generation gallbladder survivor. It is commonly passed down on the female side. Ask the females in your family if they have any knowledge of this disease.
How to prevent it?
- get plenty of exercise
- eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in fats and sugars
- drink plenty of water
- get enough sleep
- eat beets, they will cleanse the blood and the gallbladder
Gallbladder disease does not have to be a scary subject if you know you risks and know what to do when and if the disease should come up. Know your risks and take care of yourself and you should be just fine.