The gallbladder is definitely one of the more under-appreciated organs in the human body, simply because many people do not know what exactly is functions are.
The gallbladder is found below your liver, and has the appearance of a small pear-shaped pouch. The primary function of the gallbladder is to produce and secrete bile- a digestive fluid that is particularly important for facilitating the digestion of fat in the small intestines.
In terms of diseases of the gallbladder, the one most people are universally familiar with has to be gallstones. There are however, several other manifestations that gallbladder disease can take, and which may also possess different symptoms.
Let’s take a closer look at gallbladder disease.
Types Of Gallbladder Disease
You can quickly become overwhelmed trying to learn about the many types of gallbladder disease which exists, so without presenting you with information overload, here is a quick lowdown of the most common types of gallbladder disease.
Gallstones primarily occur when specific substances in bile fluid aggregate into an insoluble mass, forming particles that resemble stones. Gallstones are different from kidney stones, in that the compounds which facilitate their development are different.
Cholesterol, excessive calcium, bile salts and also byproducts of blood cell breakdown such as bilirubin can all form these stones that may occlude bile ducts, causing inadequate gallbladder emptying.
Cholecystitis actually occurs more frequently than gallstones, and is characterized by inflammation of the gallbladder, either short-term or chronically.
Short-term (or acute cholecystitis) is usually precipitated by gallstones, but can also occur owing to metastatic growths within the gallbladder or secondary to other illnesses.
Chronic cholecystitis tends to develop after several bouts of acute Cholecystitis would have first occurred, resulting in structural defects to the gallbladder developing, and affecting the ability of the gallbladder to hold and secrete bile efficiently.
This usually occurs when gallstones actively become lodged in biliary ducts or in the gallbladder itself, preventing bile from exiting as necessary. An accumulation of biliary fluid may occur, causing swelling and in some cases distention of the organ.
Acalculous Gallbladder Disease
Acalculous gallbladder disease usually occurs in association with serious long-term medical conditions. It may occur with or without gallstones as well, but likely has a lot to do with chronic oxidative damage or inflammation.
This usually refers to a gallbladder that displays below average function, usually as a result of inability to secrete bile, or low production in the first place. A person suffering from biliary dyskinesia usually has another condition that is causing inflammation of the gallbladder.
Usually occurs after severe scarring has developed on the gallbladder. Though there is no clear-cut reason why sclerosing cholangitis occurs, it is believed that similar to cirrhosis (liver scarring) it follows chronic inflammation.
Polyps resemble tiny fingerlike projections originating from organ walls, and are typically benign in nature. However, in some people these polyps can continue to grow and actually transition to becoming cancerous. Polyps larger than 1cm are advised to be surgically removed.
Not very common, although it carries a high mortality rate owing to the fact that diagnosis is usually made until the cancer is very far along. Gallbladder cancer tends to remain asymptomatic for a long period of time before it begins to metastasize and affect other organs.
Persons with gallbladder polyps and who experience multiple bouts of gallstones are said to be at higher risk of subsequently developing gallbladder cancer.
Gallbladder Abscesses And Gangrene
Abscesses within the gallbladder usually occur if gallstones irritate the cells lining the organ walls, causing inflammation and subsequent infection that may occur with pus accumulation. Abscesses are more likely to occur when bile ducts are occluded and possible accumulation of fluid and pus rapidly ensues.
Gangrene may develop if left unchecked as blood flow to this organ may be impaired, causing death to large portions of the organ.
Symptoms Of Gallbladder Disease
The associated symptoms of gallbladder disease can vary widely based on the type of process afflicting the organ at the time. However, symptoms are one of the necessary observations that need to be made note of along with other considerations in order to arrive at a correct diagnosis. Symptoms that may indicate underlying gallbladder disease may include the following:
Development of jaundice in previously healthy individuals is often a reliable indicator of either liver or gallbladder disease, as it signals accumulation of bilirubin, a byproduct of old blood cell metabolism. Jaundice usually means that the bile duct is obstructed in some way.
Fever usually indicates that an immune response is undergoing at some location in the body. Fever that occurs alone is not a reliable indicator of gallbladder disease, but needs to be considered in addition to other manifestations such as jaundice.
Nausea Or Vomiting
May occur as a result of inefficient digestion, or retention of stomach contents for prolonged periods of time. This may occur since the digestion of fats can be impaired by gallbladder disease.
Pale Or Fatty/Watery Stools
A person with gallbladder disease may pass stool that has a very pale clay like appearance. In addition to this, a large portion of dietary fat may be excreted unchanged at its breakdown and subsequent absorption is impaired.
Pain in the region of the mid to upper abdomen, primarily the right upper quadrant is very likely in people with gallbladder disease. Pain can vary in severity, ranging from mild and chronic, to intense, occurring in short sporadic episodes. Pain may also occur frequently after consuming food with high-fat content.
Strangely enough, discomfort may also radiate to the location of the shoulder blades or upper back region.
Treatment Of Gallbladder Disease
Effective treatment of gallbladder disease requires a multifaceted approach. Modalities include:
These may include increasing physical activity, as gallbladder disease is more likely to occur in people with metabolic disease and individuals who are obese, in addition to optimizing diet and nutrition.
It is important to note that a low-fat diet does not prevent gallbladder disease. Reduction of dietary triglycerides is effective, but restricting other types of fats are ineffective, and may lend themselves to the development of gallstones. The body naturally produces cholesterol, so restricting it from the diet does not guarantee anything.
Medications used to manage gallbladder disease can include corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, or prescription analgesics to mitigate the severity of pain felt. Antiemetics that reduce the urge to vomit are also helpful, as is ensuring electrolyte levels are maintained as dehydration contributes to nausea as well.
Your physician may also consider the use of prescription medication to manage triglyceride levels.
Surgery to effect complete gallbladder removal is sometimes advocated in individuals who have experienced several bouts of inflammatory gallbladder disease that has left the organ scarred and unable to fulfill its functions. Surgery will rectify gallbladder disease, but will also affect your life as fat absorption will be impaired subsequently.
Summary – Gallbladder Disease
Even though you cannot prevent gallbladder disease from occurring with 100% certainty, prevention of gallstones is a key step in preventing the changes that occur which usually precipitate inflammatory gallbladder conditions.
A diet that contains healthy fats along with high consumption of plant-based nutrition and fiber can help to reduce your risk of gallstones significantly and safeguard you from the eventuality of severe gallbladder complications.