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Symptoms and Treatments for Gallbladder Disease and Dysfunction

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Gallbladder disease can sometimes go undiagnosed in a person for a long time. This is because not only are the symptoms often intermittent, but they can also mimic the symptoms of other disorders. This article will provide an explanation of what the gallbladder is for and what happens when it malfunctions.

What Does the Gallbladder Do?

The gallbladder is a small organ that that aids in the digestion of fats. It does this by releasing bile produced by the liver, which it has been storing in a concentrated form in anticipation of a fatty meal, via ducts into the small intestine. It is shaped like a pouch and sits nestled in and around the liver, pancreas, stomach, and intestines.

Gallbladder Disease

When a person's gallbladder is not functioning properly, it is considered gallbladder disease. Most cases include gallstones, and it is believed that most gallstones form when the liver excretes more cholesterol than the bile it produces can dissolve. Excess cholesterol turns crystalline, which is the beginning stage of stone formation. There are other types of gallstones, too, but they are less common.

Often gallstones will go undetected because they present no symptoms. Other times, symptoms can be quite severe.

Common symptoms of gallstones include:

  • Nausea, vomiting
  • A bloated feeling in the gut
  • Excess belching, flatulence
  • Clay colored stool

Pain that may occur with gallstones:

  • Pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen, beneath the breastbone, between the shoulder blades or in the right shoulder.
  • Pain may last a short while, up to a number of hours.
  • Pain may be accompanied by vomiting.
  • Pain normally occurs at the same time of day, after meals, and often happens at night.
  • Signs of infection include jaundice, light colored stools, fever, chills and/or dark urine. Seek medical help right away if you have these symptoms.

Gallbladder Dysfunction Without Gallstones

Biliary dyskinesia is when the gallbladder is unable to contract properly or when the associated biliary ducts are malfunctioning, thus preventing the gallbladder from emptying itself of bile. Symptoms can mimic other gallbladder disorders, especially upper right quadrant pain. This is just one of the things that can go wrong with the gallbladder where stones are not present.

Additional possible symptoms of a gallbladder problem include:

  • Indigestion
  • Dizziness
  • A feeling of fullness
  • Diarrhea or soft stools
  • Constipation
  • Fatty stools
  • Frequent headaches

What to Do if You Suspect a Gallbladder Problem

The first thing you should do is to get a proper diagnosis. There is no sense in treating yourself for a gallbladder disorder if you don't have one. If your physician confirms your suspicion, there are ways to manage the condition without surgery as long as you don't have an obstruction or infection caused by a gallstone.

Change Your Diet

Because the gallbladder is the most reactive to foods that are high in fat, eating a low-fat diet is a good place to start. But there are other foods and beverages you might not suspect that cause symptoms; for example, foods like onions, coffee, and grapefruit.

Also, avoid overeating and replace the high fat items with foods high in fiber. Fiber helps the body eliminate excess cholesterol (which is what gallstones are made out of).

Consider Supplements

  • Having insufficient vitamin C and E in your diet can contribute to gallstone formation.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation.
  • Herbal remedies can be useful for calming a gallbladder attack. Please seek professional guidance before self medicating with herbs. It should be noted that it is possible for any one of the herbs listed to interact with medications and/or trigger symptoms of a person's food intolerances.

Conclusion

Gallbladder disease tends to run in families, so if a parent or grandparent has had theirs removed, it is possible that you inherited the condition. It is not uncommon for spouses to both be diagnosed with a gallbladder disorder; this is because couples tend to follow the same diet—if it's hard on one person's gallbladder, it will be hard on the other's. So, taking your family history and your symptoms into account, if you suspect gallbladder dysfunction, it is best to see your physician.

Sources

University of Maryland Medical Center
Medscape
New York Times

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have chronic indigestion even though I take Pantoprozole daily. I have also had alot of belching recently. Any chance my gallbladder is failing? I don't have any other symptoms you have listed.

Answer: Consider looking into low stomach acid. Sometimes indigestion means you don't have enough stomach acid, rather than having too much. If you take the pill, it could be making it worse.

Comments

Kat McAdams (author) from Midwest on March 12, 2018:

This is the extent of my knowledge. If the article does not answer your questions, I'm afraid you will have to consult her physician.

Ramkishore on March 12, 2018:

My mother is suffering from gallstones please suggested me

Cadence1 on October 28, 2016:

Your liver and common bile duct take over functioning ^

Jackie on May 03, 2016:

What takes over the function of the gallbladder once it has been removed?

Kat McAdams (author) from Midwest on May 18, 2013:

Glad you liked it!

RTalloni on May 17, 2013:

This is an easy-to-read post filled with helpful information on the gallbladder. Well done--thanks! I'll be checking out more of your posts soon.

Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on May 15, 2013:

Thanks for teaching me a lot more about the gallbladder. I always thought it was more toward the mid-line of the body, rather than tucked behind the liver. Wow, there are so many organs in the abdomen! Later!

Kat McAdams (author) from Midwest on May 02, 2013:

Why didn't they just remove the gallbladder instead of the stones?

peachy from Home Sweet Home on May 01, 2013:

i had gallstones 8 years ago and had them remove. There were 6 stones in them and each stones cost me $1K !!!