The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped muscular sac which is located just below the liver. It performs the function of storing bile, which is a digestive juice produced by the liver. Bile contains bile salts, bile pigment (bilirubin) and cholesterol. When the gallbladder contracts, bile is released into the bile duct through the cystic duct. When bile enters the small intestine, it acts on the dietary fat. Bile salts act as emulsifiers. The process of emulsification is extremely vital for digestion of fats. Bile acids also act on free cholesterol. Bile acids help in eliminating cholesterol and bile pigment.
It has been observed that poor dietary habits are major contributory factors for gallbladder disease. Problems could arise due to excessive consumption of foods that are rich in cholesterol. When bile salts or cholesterol are not present in the right quantities, these crystallize into gallstones. Gallstones are pebble-like deposits that form in the gallbladder. The development of gallstones in the gallbladder is medically referred to as cholelithiasis. Gallbladder can become inflamed if these hardened deposits obstruct the cystic duct (the duct that connects the gallbladder to the common bile duct). This condition is referred to as cholecystitis. Complications could occur if gallstones get lodged in a duct. If these hardened deposits obstruct the flow of bile from the gallbladder, the affected individual is likely to experience distressing symptoms.
A gallbladder attack is a characteristic symptom of cholelithiasis. A group of distressing symptoms are experienced by the patient. These include pain in upper-right section of the abdomen. Besides experiencing pain, the affected individual may also suffer from nausea and/or vomiting. Such episodes occur especially after consuming a fatty meal at night. Since people suffering from this condition develop an intolerance of fatty foods, the consumption of such foods could trigger an attack. The attack could last from 15 minutes to several hours. Burping, belching, gas, regurgitation of bitter fluid after meals, dizziness, queasiness and biliary colic are some of the most common symptoms of this condition. The affected individuals might also suffer from a loss of appetite.
The patient might experience pain on touching the upper right section of the abdomen. Pain might increase on taking deep breaths. Pain from the upper abdomen may even be referred to the chest or the right shoulder blade. Chest pain might be attributed to an obstruction of the bile duct due to gallstones or inflammation. Since most of the aforementioned symptoms are also associated with digestive ailments, gallbladder problems are often mistaken for stomach disorders. However, the affected individual must seek medical help to ascertain if these symptoms are indicative of a poorly functioning gallbladder or not.
Computed tomography, ultrasound, hepatobiliary scintigraphy (a radionuclide diagnostic imaging study that helps medical experts evaluate the condition of the liver and the biliary system), and cholangiography (a radiographic examination which involves injecting a special dye for viewing the biliary tree) are some of the tests that are performed to check for inflammation or the presence of gallstones. If the test results reveal inflammation or the presence of gallstones, doctors would prescribe antibiotics and drugs for pain relief. If gallstones lodged in the bile duct are causing distressing symptoms, doctors might prescribe a secondary bile acid called Ursodiol (ursodeoxycholic acid) or solvents such as Moctanin or Methyl tert-butyl ether. These would help break and dissolve the stones.
Shock wave therapy can also be employed to break up gallstones. Since excessive consumption of fatty food items is one of the most common causes of this condition, doctors generally suggest that the patients follow the recommended dietary guidelines. The patient is asked to have foods that are rich in antioxidants. Often the patient is asked to switch to a healthier cooking oil. The patient may be asked to cut down on intake of food items such as French fries, onion rings, cookies, crackers, cakes, pasta, white bread, refined sugar, and margarine. It would be best if the patient avoids alcohol and tobacco. If the patient often suffers from excruciating pain due to recurring gallstones, doctors may recommend the surgical removal of the gallbladder. This surgery is medically referred to as cholecystectomy. To lower the risks associated with an open surgery, medical experts may recommend the minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgery.
Gallbladder disease could be avoided if people make healthy lifestyle choices. It is essential to follow a healthy diet. It would be best not to consume the food items that may trigger a gallbladder attack. While removal of gallbladder is the best treatment option in most cases, the patient could also opt for gallbladder flush or other natural remedies involving the use of herbs. The importance of a timely diagnosis and treatment cannot be stressed enough.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.