Chronic Gallbladder Disease

The gallbladder, a sac located under the liver, stores and regulates the release of bile into the upper small intestine to aid in the digestion of fat. When a chronic condition prevents the gallbladder from doing its job effectively, it’s known as chronic gallbladder disease.

Several different conditions fall under the umbrella of chronic gallbladder disease, though most cases involve chronic cholecystitis. This condition is an inflammation of the gallbladder that usually results from the formation of gallstones. It can cause the gallbladder to shrink and lose function.

Causes of Chronic Gallbladder Disease

Chronic gallbladder disease most often develops due to the formation of gallstones, which are hardened deposits of bile that can form when too much cholesterol or bilirubin is present. They can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.

There are several factors that are believed to lead to the development of gallstones, including:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Eating a high-cholesterol, low-fiber diet
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity

Symptoms of Chronic Gallbladder Disease

Chronic gallbladder disease involves both gallstones and mild inflammation, which can cause the gallbladder to become stiff and scarred.

Some of the more common symptoms of this condition can include:

  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Diarrhea

When gallstones are lodged in a bile duct, additional symptoms may appear, including:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Dark urine and/or lighter stools
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fever, chills, nausea and vomiting

Diagnosing Chronic Gallbladder Disease

Because the symptoms of chronic gallbladder disease are similar to those of other conditions, diagnostic tests will likely be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Options include:

  • A CT scan to examine the abdomen
  • An abdominal ultrasound to view the abdomen and liver
  • Blood tests to look for infections in the bloodstream
  • A cholescintigraphy to identify obstructions in the gallbladder or bile ducts

Treatments for Chronic Gallbladder Disease

In some cases, chronic gallbladder disease can be treated using antibiotics, pain relievers and oral medication that can help dissolve gallstones. Since gallstones frequently recur, chronic gallbladder disease is often treated through surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). After the gallbladder has been removed, bile moves directly from the liver to the small intestine.