The human body comprises various organ systems that work in conjunction so as to facilitate the vital bodily processes needed for healthy functioning of the body. The gallbladder is one such organ that aids in the digestive process. The gallbladder is a tiny pear-shaped sac that is located beneath the liver in the upper-right section of the abdomen. Wondering how the gallbladder aids in the digestion of food? Well, this tiny muscular sac stores bile, which is a digestive juice the liver produces. Bile helps in emulsifying fats so that they can be easily digested. If the gallbladder function gets adversely affected due to any reason, it will not be able to regulate the flow of bile.
When the body is unable to digest fats, one may develop an intolerance to fats, and therefore, experience various distressing symptoms on ingesting a fatty meal. One of the most common causes of gallbladder disease is the formation of gallstones in the gallbladder. Though gallbladder disease is not very common in children, poor dietary habits could cause gallbladder dysfunction in children. In this article, we will find out what causes gallbladder disease in children and how it can be treated.
What Causes Gallbladder Problems in Children?
As mentioned earlier, gallbladder releases bile as and when the digestive system needs to break down cholesterol and fats. The ingested food is acted upon by enzymes that are released from the walls of the stomach. When it reaches the small intestine, the endocrine glands secrete a hormone called cholecystokinin. Release of this hormone causes the smooth muscle of the gallbladder to contract. The contraction causes relaxation of a valve called Sphincter of Oddi. This is followed by release of bile into the small intestine. Wondering what are the circumstances under which the gallbladder would fail to regulate the flow of bile? Well, the presence of gallstones in the gallbladder is one of the most common gallbladder disease causes. This condition is medically referred to as cholelithiasis.
The reason behind the formation of gallstone is an imbalance in the composition of bile. Cholesterol, bile salts and bilirubin make up this digestive juice. Whenever the concentration of cholesterol or bile pigment in bile increases, it begins to crystallize into stone-like deposits. When these stones obstruct the cystic duct, one is diagnosed with biliary colic. Presence of gallstone in the common bile duct is referred to as choledocholithiasis. The aforementioned conditions are usually caused due to consumption of foods that are loaded with cholesterol or fats. Children who have a compromised immune system may also be at a higher risk of developing these conditions. If gallstones obstruct the bile duct and impede the flow of bile, they can even cause chronic cholecystitis or inflammation of the gallbladder. Acute cholecystitis, on the other hand, is mostly caused due to bacterial or viral infections. At times, infections may result due to a surgery gone wrong. Children suffering from liver diseases may also end up with an inflamed gallbladder.
Symptoms and Treatment of Gallbladder Problems in Children
Gallbladder disease symptoms are very similar to what one may experience due to indigestion, but these are usually quite severe. Children suffering from gallbladder disease may develop intolerance to foods that are rich in fats or cholesterol. Due to this, they begin to experience gallbladder attack symptoms on ingestion of fatty foods. Abdominal pain, tenderness in the upper-right section of abdomen, indigestion, bloating, belching, heartburn, fever, nausea, vomiting and biliary colic are some of the symptoms one may experience. At times, one may even experience right-sided chest pain. Severe inflammation could also affect one's appetite. If a child has been experiencing gallbladder disease symptoms, certain diagnostic tests should be conducted in order to identify the underlying cause. Certain imaging procedures can also help in detecting the presence of gallstones.
As far as the treatment of gallbladder disease in children is concerned, drug therapy coupled with certain dietary guidelines may prove helpful. Complying with the dietary guidelines would certainly help in preventing a gallbladder attack. Cleansing of the liver as well as the gallbladder can be achieved with the help of certain herbs. Drinking beet juice or apple juice is believed to help in dissolving small-sized gallstones, but if inflammation is severe, gallbladder removal, extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy or oral dissolution therapy may be suggested. These procedures are resorted to in rare cases, where drug therapy or natural remedies don't work. Lithotripsy is a method wherein ultrasound waves are used for breaking gallstones, whereas oral dissolution therapy involves use of bile acid pills to break gallstones.
This was a brief overview on gallbladder problems in children. Though incidence of gallbladder problems in children is not very high, unhealthy eating habits or certain medical conditions may put children at a risk of developing gallbladder disease. A timely diagnosis and treatment is extremely important to slow the progression of gallbladder disease. It's important that the disease is not allowed to grow to a stage where surgery becomes a necessity. Parents must, therefore, make sure that children follow a healthy diet and make the right lifestyle choices. After all, prevention is better than cure.