What is the gallbladder?

The gallbladder is a small pear shaped organ that lies in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen underneath the liver. Connecting to the common bile duct, it carries bile from the liver to the small intestine. Its function is to store the bile made by the liver. During meals the gallbladder empties extra bile into the intestine to help with digestion.

The pain of a gallbladder attack may be severe and patients who have gallstones are advised to eat a low fat diet in order to decrease the symptoms. However, there is no medication or medical treatment that has proven to permanently dissolve gallstones.

In people whose gallstones are causing pain or other symptoms, it is usually recommended that your gallbladder, with all of the stones, be removed. The gallbladder is not a vital organ and absorption and digestion can continue normally after it is removed. Once the organ is removed, the liver will compensate for the gallbladder by pushing bile directly into the intestines.

Approximately 600,000 gallbladders are removed in the United States every year. Most of the surgeries are performed laparoscopically as elective surgery, with only 10% performed on an emergency basis.

 

When the pain is so bad….

Often, patients end up in the Emergency Room for the sudden onset of symptoms that may occur when gallstones get lodged in the bile duct and cause a blockage. These symptoms can last from several minutes to several hours and can be frightening:

  • Sudden and intensifying pain in upper right portion of the abdomen
  • Sudden and intensifying pain in the breast bone in the center of the abdomen
  • Pain in the back between the shoulder blades
  • Pain in the right shoulder

Other symptoms of gallbladder disease may include some or all of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Fever
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)