The gallbladder is a pear shaped organ that is located just below the liver. Its main function is to act as a storage organ for bile secreted by the liver. Bile is stored and concentrated in the gallbladder and then transported to the duodenum or the small intestine. Bile is a greenish-yellow colored liquid that mainly facilitates digestion of fats. Any problem or diseases associated with the gallbladder can affect its functionality and thereby cause gallbladder dysfunction. This dysfunction can interrupt the normal transportation of bile, and hence, interfere with digestion.
A dysfunctional gallbladder or chronic cholecystitis is characterized by formation of stones in the gallbladder and inflammation of the gallbladder. Chronic cholecystitis causes inflammation and scarring of the gallbladder, and the gallbladder may become stiff and rigid. Generally, bile contains bile salts, bilirubin, electrolyte chemicals, water and cholesterol. Gallstones are mainly formed from the components of the bile itself. Most of the gallstones are formed from either cholesterol or bilirubin. Sometimes, these stones can get lodged in the bile ducts, leading to obstruction of the flow of bile through it. Recurrent and total obstruction of the bile duct by gallstones can lead to choledocholithiasis. In many instances, bile can thicken and cause sludge buildup, which can further aggravate the problem.
Gallbladder dysfunction generally produces gastrointestinal problems. Therefore, abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, bloating, gas, diarrhea, etc. are the most common symptoms of gallbladder diseases. Abdominal pain generally affects the middle or upper right portion of the abdomen. People feel a gnawing pain in the upper right abdomen, which can further radiate to the upper back region. The pain can be quite intense and last for a few hours to several days. Abdominal pain associated with this condition has been observed to follow a pattern, as it usually occurs almost at the same time.
Vomiting is also one of the most common symptoms. Abdominal discomfort, bloating, belching and vomiting typically follow a heavy meal. Moreover, chronic diarrhea has also been observed to be associated with a dysfunctional gallbladder. If the gallstones get stuck in the common bile duct, large amounts of bile get stored in the body, increasing the level of bilirubin in the blood, which can cause fever and jaundice along with abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can be an indicator of more serious complications like cholangitis or infection of the bile duct. People suffering from this condition can gradually develop an intolerance towards fatty foods and experience abdominal discomfort and pain after consuming a fatty meal. However, some of the symptoms such as gas, vomiting, bloating and abdominal pain can be termed as vague symptoms, as they can be associated with many other diseases and disorders.
Diagnosis and Treatment
To detect gallbladder diseases, several diagnostic tests such as ultrasound or sonography, computed tomography or CT scan, and hepatobiliary scintigraphy are required. Cholangiography is also performed to examine the bile duct. Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, or ERCP, is another test that is carried out to diagnose problems associated with the liver, gallbladder and the bile ducts.
Treatment for gallbladder dysfunction to a great extent depends on the age, health and medical history of the patient. Generally, oral drugs are administered to dissolve the stones, while medications are prescribed to prevent further stone formation. But this treatment option has shown very limited success. If gallstones result in inflammation and infection of the organ, then antibiotics can provide relief. However, in many instances, gallbladder surgery or surgical removal of the gallbladder is the only viable option of treatment. It is usually done by a laparoscopic surgery method.
What exactly causes gallbladder diseases as well as the formation of gallstones is not known. But nutritional deficiency and consumption of unhealthy oily and junk foods have been found to increase the risk of stone formation and gallbladder dysfunction. Therefore, a low-fat diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and is rich in fiber is usually recommended for people with gallbladder problems. Obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, and smoking are some important risk factors for common gallbladder problems.