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Gallbladder Disorders 

The gallbladder, located just under the liver, is responsible for storing and dispensing the bile that’s used during digestion. There are a number of disorders that can affect the gallbladder, a small, pear-shaped organ on the right side of the abdomen that stores and dispenses the bile that’s used to help digest food (particularly fatty foods). One of the most common problems affecting the gallbladder is the formation of gallstones (cholelithiasis). If a gallstone blocks bile from exiting the gallbladder, it can cause the gallbladder to become inflamed (cholecystitis), which can in turn cause severe pain (biliary colic). Over time, gallstones and the resulting inflammation can scar the gallbladder, leading to chronic gallbladder disease. 

Causes of Gallbladder Disorders 

Gallstones, which are usually composed of cholesterol or bilirubin, can form when bile contains too much of either substance or when the gallbladder fails to completely empty itself.  

Certain risk factors can make someone more likely to develop gallstones, including: 

  • Being over age 40 
  • Being a woman 
  • Eating a fat- and cholesterol-rich diet 
  • Being pregnant 
  • Being overweight 
  • Rapidly losing weight 
  • Having a family history of gallstones 
  • Having certain other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and diabetes 
  • Taking certain medications, including oral contraceptives and cholesterol-lowering drugs 

While gallbladder inflammation most commonly results from gallstones, it can also be caused by: 

  • Scarring that blocks a bile duct 
  • Insufficient blood flow to the gallbladder 
  • An infection 
  • A tumor 
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol 

Symptoms of Gallbladder Disorders 

The symptoms of a gallbladder disorder will vary based on the type of disorder present and how far it has progressed. However, one of the most common symptoms is pain and tenderness in the upper abdomen, usually on the right side or in the middle. The pain may extend through the chest and to the right shoulder blade or back, and may increase when taking a deep breath or after eating a meal (especially a fatty or greasy meal).  

Other common symptoms include: 

  • Fever 
  • Chills 
  • Heartburn 
  • Indigestion 
  • Gas 
  • A feeling of being full
  • Clay-colored stools 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice) 

It’s important to note that gallstones don’t always cause pain. It’s usually not until a gallstone slows or blocks the flow of bile that noticeable symptoms develop. 

Diagnosing Gallbladder Disorders 

If a patient is reporting the symptoms of a gallbladder disorder, a physician may order one or more of the following tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other potential causes: 

  • Blood test 
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan 
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) 
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) 
  • Hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scan 
  • Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) 
  • X-ray 

Treatment for Gallbladder Disorders 

If a gallbladder ruptures, it will require emergency surgery. Otherwise, treatment will likely begin by making certain lifestyle changes to manage the condition, such as eating less fat and carbohydrates and eating more fiber-rich foods. Certain medications may also be able to help dissolve gallstones or relieve pain, and antibiotics can be used if an infection is present. If conservative methods don’t provide sufficient relief, then the gastroenterologists at Tampa General Hospital may recommend undergoing surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy).