What to Know When You’re Dealing with Gallbladder Problems

September 2, 2021
William Hanner D.O.

It may be one of the smallest organs in the body, but when your gallbladder is not functioning as it should, you’ll definitely know it. The pain, discomfort, and resulting frustration can be hard to live with, and possibly even life-threatening if not addressed. 

The good news is, the right medical advice and care can help you get lasting relief from nagging gallbladder symptoms. At Midtown Surgical & Skin Institute, we’ve assisted hundreds of Tulsa area patients with compassionate, trusted care for their gallbladder. We’ll help you receive a proper diagnosis for your gallbladder problem and a personalized treatment approach that works for you.

Here’s what you need to know about this small, but important organ, and its treatment.

Where Is Your Gallbladder?

Just 4 inches in size and pear-shaped, your gallbladder is located just beneath the liver, in your abdomen’s upper right side. Other nearby organs include the pancreas, stomach, colon and small intestine.

What the Gallbladder Does

It’s probably no surprise to find out that your gallbladder is involved in your gastrointestinal process. Specifically, the gallbladder is a storage place for the bile that is produced by the liver. 

When you eat, your body releases a hormone that tells the gallbladder to contract and release the bile, which helps you break down and digest the fats you consume. It also helps your body to absorb nutrients, including fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

What Are the Common Symptoms of a Bad Gallbladder?

The number one sign you’re having a gallbladder problem is pain. Gallbladder-related pain is usually located in the mid to upper-right part of the abdomen. It may be mild or intermittent, or it can be frequent, or severe. It can radiate to other parts of your body, such as the back and chest. In fact, it can be so excruciating that it can mimic a heart attack.

You’ll also want to be aware of these additional symptoms that can signal you have gallbladder issues:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Fullness 
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Changes in bowel habits — chronic diarrhea or acute diarrhea
  • Light-colored or clay-colored stools
  • Dark or tea-colored urine
  • Jaundice — yellowing of the skin

If you’re having any of the symptoms listed above, it’s smart to get medical advice as soon as you can. A doctor experienced in gallbladder issues can perform the appropriate tests to diagnose you properly so that you can receive the best treatment to relieve your pain and other symptoms.

What Are Gallstones, and How Do They Form?

The most common reason for gallbladder problems is the formation of gallstones. The digestive bile that your body produces is made up of a number of substances, including water, salt, and cholesterol. And just as cholesterol can build up in other parts of the body, it can build up in your gallbladder and bile ducts. There, the cholesterol can crystallize into gallstones—which can be as small as a grain of sand, or as large as a golf ball. 

Do Gallstones Always Cause Pain?

As much as 15% of people have gallstones, but they won’t always know it, because these stones don’t necessarily cause pain for everyone. In fact, many gallstones never cause any problems at all, meaning they don’t need to be treated.

Sometimes, though, gallstones can travel into the common bile duct which leads from the gallbladder to the stomach—and they can get stuck. When they’re trapped in the duct, gallstones block the flow of your bile, causing the gallbladder to spasm. This is commonly referred to as a gallbladder attack—and it can be very painful.

Gallstones may do more than cause pain. They also can lead to life-threatening conditions requiring hospitalization such as:

  • Abscesses or perforations
  • Pancreatitis
  • Jaundice
  • Cholangitis, an infection of the biliary system
  • Sepsis, an infection throughout the body causing potentially life-threatening organ damage

For this reason, finding out if the cause of your upper right abdomen pain is gallstones is essential to protecting your health. With the right doctor, you can receive a caring, thorough diagnosis and treatment plan that ends the pain and helps you get back to living life on your terms.

What Are the Other Common Causes of Gallbladder Disease?

Of course, gallstones aren’t the only reason for gallbladder pain and problems. Gallbladder disease can result from many other causes, such as:

  • Inflammation of the gallbladder — Also called cholecystitis, an inflamed gallbladder is usually the result of gallstones blocking ducts in your digestive tract. The pain can be intermittent or steady, and often severe.
  • Biliary colic — This is an intermittent or steady ache in the upper right side of the abdomen due to blocked bile ducts. Gallstones, tumors and constricted ducts can all cause this problem.
  • Bile duct damage — Sometimes, the ducts that connect the gallbladder, liver and small intestines can be hurt or constricted due to infection or inflammation. Bile duct damage can also be caused by pancreas disorders.
  • Polyps and tumors — Any growths in and around the gallbladder can be troublesome, constricting ducts, or causing discomfort. These growths can be a sign of gallbladder cancer, or they may be benign.

What Are the Treatments for Gallstones and Gallbladder Problems?

Depending on your medical diagnosis, your doctor will work with you to come up with an individualized treatment plan that fits your specific situation.

  • Medication — If you have a bacterial infection or mild issues, medication may be an appropriate way to heal the infection, reduce inflammation, and lessen pain.
  • Gallbladder removal surgery — For those who are suffering from repeated gallbladder attacks, have large gallstones, or are in severe or life-threatening conditions, surgery may be the best solution. Gallbladder surgery can often be performed laparoscopically, using a small incision to remove the organ easily.

How Do You Prevent Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease?

  1. Lose weight slowly. Getting to a healthy weight is important for a host of health reasons. But it’s also important to lose pounds at a slow and steady pace so that your body can handle the stress of the weight loss.
  2. Lower your cholesterol intake. Since gallstones are formed from crystallized cholesterol, an effective way to prevent them is to limit the cholesterol by reducing your fatty food intake. Eat a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (good fiber).
  3. Exercise regularly. Steady exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, which helps you avoid gallstones. And staying physically active can also help your entire gastrointestinal tract to function properly.

What Is the Outlook for Gallstone Issues?

Most people who are having pain and other symptoms as a result of gallstones will need surgery. Because gallstones don’t dissolve on their own, they tend to grow larger and more problematic over time. And they can even lead to a need for emergency gallbladder removal.

Get Gallbladder Treatment that Provides Lasting Relief

Painful gallstones and other symptoms can be troubling, but there are solutions that will help you feel better and get back to enjoying your life. Whether you need care for known gallbladder problems or desire a medical diagnosis for unexplained symptoms, Midtown Surgical is here to help. We listen to you, perform thorough tests, and provide medical advice so you can understand your choices and find lasting relief for your gallbladder issues.

Schedule a consultation with us today—and start on the road to feeling better.

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