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Common Gallbladder Issues and Treatments
The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ located under the liver. The primary function of the gallbladder is to store bile produced by the liver and transfer it through a tube that opens directly into the small intestine. Bile helps to absorb fats and other nutrients.
Gallbladder disease is a collective term used to describe the different issues that can affect the gallbladder. Most problems originate from inflammation caused by irritation of the gallbladder walls, a condition called cholecystitis. The irritation usually occurs when gallstones obstruct the ducts linking to the small intestine, causing bile accumulation and consequently necrosis or gangrene.
This article focuses on issues affecting the gallbladder and the available treatment options.
Common gallbladder issues
Gallstones occur when substances like bile salts, cholesterol, calcium or blood elements (like bilirubin) accumulate into solid masses and obstruct the passages of the bile ducts and gallbladder. The stones may also form when the gallbladder does not drain frequently or entirely. Gallstones can be as tiny as a sand particle or as large as a golf ball.
The occurrence of gallbladder cancer is rare, with less than 4,000 occurrences in the US yearly. When it occurs, it could affect other parts of the body. The predisposing factors include female gender, gallstones, porcelain gallbladder, obesity and old age.
Also termed acute cholecystitis, this condition occurs when bile cannot move from the gallbladder, usually because there is a gallstone obstructing the bile ducts. Persistent occurrence of acute cholecystitis can cause chronic cholecystitis.
If the bile duct is blocked, the bile accumulates, causing gallbladder irritation, swelling and infection. With time, the gallbladder becomes damaged and cannot perform optimally.
Common bile duct stones or choledocholithiasis
This occurs when the bile cannot leave because there is a stone trapped in the entrance of the bile duct. When gallstones develop in the gallbladder and move to the bile duct, it is called a secondary stone. If the stone forms in the tube, it is a primary stone; they are less frequent and rarely cause infections.
If gallstones are not treated early, they could perforate the gallbladder, meaning a hole will form in the walls of the organ. This issue could also be caused by acute cholecystitis. This leakage could cause infection to spread to other areas of the body.
Common bile duct infection
This occurs when infection occurs in the bile duct due to blockage.
This case is rare but can be deadly. It happens when the gallstones move to the small intestine and obstruct it.
Treating gallbladder issues
The treatment options usually involve extracting the gallbladder, taking drugs to dissolve the gallstones and antibiotics for healing infections.
Here is what you should know
Removing the gallbladder requires a laparoscope (a narrow tube with a camera). During the surgery, the doctor will insert the device through an incision into the abdomen. The camera transfers enlarged images onto a video monitor.
The surgeon will extract the gallbladder through the tiny incisions. The procedure can be completed in a day, and the patient can return home the same day.
In rare cases, open surgery may be necessary and requires an incision about four to six inches wide to remove the gallbladder. The procedure requires patients to stay in the hospital for up to a week.