The gallbladder is a pear-shaped sac found just below the liver that is the “holding area” for bile. Bile is produced by the liver to help digest foods. The gallbladder releases the bile into the small intestine to help break down food, particularly fatty foods.
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The presence of other (co-morbid) conditions may also cause gallbladder concerns, including:
- Gender-related (female) conditions
- Consumption of fatty foods
Common gallbladder disorders include:
- Biliary colic. A term for severe episodes of pain caused by gallstone blockage of the cystic duct. The blockage causes the gallbladder to contract vigorously, causing spasmodic (or sometimes constant) severe pain. Episodes usually last only an hour or two, and may recur infrequently, often years apart.
- Dysfunctional gallbladder or chronic gallbladder disease. The gallbladder becomes scarred from the gallstones and the repeated episodes of inflammation.
- Gallstones (cholelithiasis). Stones develop inside the gallbladder and can cause pain. However, about 90% of patients suffering with gallstones may have no symptoms, and may have had the stones present for a number of years. Studies indicate that if a patient has gallstones present for 10 or more years, they are less likely to cause symptoms.
- Inflamed gallbladder (cholecystitis). Inflammation of the gallbladder can be caused by gallstones – the most common cause – excessive alcohol use, infections, or even tumors that cause bile buildup. The gallbladder may rupture, which is cause for a surgical emergency.
- Sclerosing cholangitis. A disease of the bile ducts that causes inflammation of the liver, slowing the flow of bile to the gut. This can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure or even liver cancer.
Signs and symptoms of gallbladder disorders
The symptoms of a gallbladder disorder can vary depending on the type of condition. However, most symptoms start with pain in the upper abdominal area, either in the upper right or middle. Other common symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Clay-colored stool
- Feeling of fullness
- Heartburn, indigestion, and excessive gas
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Pain that extends below the right shoulder blade or to the back; that worsens after eating a meal, particularly fatty or greasy foods; or a pain that increases when you breathe in deeply
- Tenderness in the abdomen, particularly the right upper quadrant
- Vomiting, nausea, fever
Diagnosis of gallbladder disorders
The first step in the diagnosis of a gallbladder disorder is to pinpoint the actual cause of the patient’s discomfort. Typically, a process of elimination is used to rule out any other disorders which might be mimicking a gallbladder attack, such as:
- Acute appendicitis
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Heart attack. Often mistaken as a gallbladder attack.
- Hiatal hernia
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn''re sorry, there was an error while processing your request. Please try again.