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General Surgery Spotlight: The Gallbladder

Your gallbladder helps with the digestion and absorption of protein and fat by releasing bile into your digestive tract. Located next to the liver, your gallbladder stores bile that was produced by the liver until it is needed to help with digestion. Sometimes, the bile will crystallize in the gallbladder and form gallstones. Although most gallstones are harmless (it might surprise you to know that a large portion of the population has them), in some cases they result in blockages which can lead to liver damage and pancreatitis. When the gallstones lead to a larger and more serious problem, then we consider a cholecystectomy – removal of the gallbladder.

Symptoms of gallbladder dysfunction
Gallbladder problems will cause the following symptoms and will often be worse when eating certain foods:

  • Epgastric/right-sided abdominal pain that radiates to the back
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Fever or chills
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Jaundice
  • Light colored stools and dark urine

Other conditions that cause similar symptoms include gastritis, gastric ulcers, and pancreatitis.

Gallbladder testing
Gallbladder workup usually starts with an ultrasound. Although gallstones can sometimes be seen on a CT scan, an ultrasound provides a much better picture of what’s going on with your gallbladder. Some patients do not have stones, but have similar symptoms. In these patients we may order a test called a HIDA scan that looks at the function of the gallbladder.

Gallbladder surgery
If you’re in a situation where your gallbladder needs to be removed, laparoscopic surgery is typically done. Otherwise known as minimally invasive surgery, this is performed with several small incisions, thin surgical instruments, and the assistance of video cameras. The camera transmits an image of the patient’s abdomen onto a tv screen, allowing the surgeon to see inside the patient without requiring a large incision. In cases with severe inflammation, scar tissue or patient’s who have had a previous surgery, then a traditional open procedure may need to be performed.

Elective vs. emergency evaluation
Significant pain that lasts for more than 3-4 hours should be taken seriously because it could be gallbladder dysfunction, or something more serious like a heart attack, pancreatitis or severe inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis). If it is determined that you have an inflamed gallbladder or a gallstone that is lodged then you may be admitted to the hospital for gallbladder removal. On the other hand, if the gallbladder is not severely inflamed then you may be able to have the surgery done electively. You should avoid spicy, greasy, fatty and fried foods as those are known to provoke the onset of symptoms.

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, talk to your primary care provider. If it’s decided that you need your gallbladder removed, this is a common procedure performed by Oaklawn’s team of general surgeons and they will be able to help you through this process.

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