Gallbladder Disease

What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ located in the right upper quadrant of your abdomen under your liver. Its main function is to store bile produced by the liver and release it via a duct into your small intestine, where bile is used to help you digest fats. There are many different types of gallbladder disease.

1. Gallstones

Gallstones develop when substances in the bile (like cholesterol, bile salts, and calcium) or blood (like bilirubin) form hard particles or “stones”. These stones can then move and dislodge, blocking the passageways to the gallbladder and bile ducts. 

Gallstones tend to form when the gallbladder doesn’t empty completely or often enough. 

Risk factors for gallstones include:

1.    Being overweight or obese

2.    Having diabetes

3.    Being older than 40

4.    Being female

5.    Taking medications that contain estrogen (like birth control pills)

6.    Having a family history of gallstones

7.    Having Crohn’s disease 

8.    Having Celiac disease

9.    Having cirrhosis or other liver diseases

 
2. Cholecystitis is an inflammation of the gallbladder or irritation of the gallbladder walls. The condition may be acute or chronic.
 

Acute cholecystitis occurs suddenly is most commonly caused by gallstones. It often presents as right upper quadrant abdominal pain. The pain tends to occur after meals, especially fatty or heavy meals, is colicky, meaning it comes and goes suddenly and often in waves, and may radiate to the right shoulder. 

Symptoms include:

1.     Right upper quadrant abdominal pain

2.     Fever

3.     Nausea

4.     Vomiting

5.     Jaundice

Chronic cholecystitis is longstanding and occurs several attacks of acute cholecystitis. The gallbladder shrinks and loses its ability to store and release bile. 

Common symptoms include:

1.    Right upper quadrant abdominal pain, 

2.    Nausea, and 

3.     Vomiting.

Treatment often involves surgical removal of the gallbladder.

3. Choledocholithiasis is another term for bile duct stones or gallstones found in the bile duct. When gallstones move out of the gallbladder they can become lodged in the bile ducts. When gallstones get stuck in this way, bile can’t exit the gallbladder and it builds up. This can lead to the gallbladder becoming inflamed or distended. The plugged bile ducts can further prevent bile from traveling from the liver to the small intestine. 

Symptoms may include:

1.    Severe pain in the middle of the upper abdomen or right upper quadrant

2.    Fever, chills, sweats

3.    Nauseaand/or vomiting

4.    Jaundice

5.    Pale or clay colored stools

 
4. Sclerosing cholangitis
Ongoing inflammation and damage to the bile ducts can lead to scarring in the bile ducts known as sclerosing cholangitis. The cause of this condition is not well understood but approximately 60-80% of affected patients also have Ulcerative Colitis.

Nearly half of affected patients don’t have symptoms; however, if symptoms occur, they can include: 

1.    Fever

2.    Jaundice

3.    Itching, and 

4.    Upper abdominal discomfort. 

Having this condition increases your risk of liver cancer. Currently, the only known cure is a liver transplant. 

5. Gallbladder cancer is a relatively rare disease. There are several different types of gallbladder cancer. They can be difficult to treat because they’re not often diagnosed until late in the disease course. 

Risk factors include:

1.    Having a history of gallstones, 

2.    Having other gallbladder conditions such as gallbladder polyps or chronic gallbladder infection, 

3.    Being female, and 

4.    Your risk increases with age. 

The symptoms of gallbladder cancer may be similar to those of acute cholecystitis, but there may also be no symptoms at all. Symptoms include:

1.    Abdominal pain, particularly in the right upper quadrant

2.    Bloating

3.    Fever

4.    Unintentional weight loss 

5.    Nausea and/or vomiting

6.    Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (known as jaundice)

 
6. Gallbladder polyps
Gallbladder polyps are lesions or growths found inside the gallbladder. They’re usually benign and have no symptoms; however, surgical removal is sometimes recommended especially if the polyps are larger than 1cm. The larger the polyp the greater the chance it is cancerous.

Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer is a relatively rare disease. There are several different types of gallbladder cancer. They can be difficult to treat because they’re not often diagnosed until late in the disease course. 

Risk factors include:

1.    Having a history of gallstones, 

2.    Having other gallbladder conditions such as gallbladder polyps or chronic gallbladder infection, 

3.    Being female, and 

4.    Your risk increases with age. 

The symptoms of gallbladder cancer may be similar to those of acute cholecystitis, but there may also be no symptoms at all. Symptoms include:

1.    Abdominal pain, particularly in the right upper quadrant

2.    Bloating

3.    Fever

4.    Unintentional weight loss 

5.    Nausea and/or vomiting

6.    Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (known as jaundice)

Contact Us