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How can I avoid gallbladder problems?

 

Julie Lindholm, MD, is general surgeon at Page Hospital.

Question: How can I avoid problems with my gallbladder?

Answer: A gallbladder is a bile-storage pouch under the liver. Bile is green-yellow bitter fluid made in the liver, and it assists the body in the digestion of fatty food. Gallstones can form in the gallbladder, and they usually contain cholesterol.They can range in size from tiny grains like sand to stones as large as a golf ball.   The largest I saw recorded is 2 inches across, although I have removed larger ones,  (and given them back to the patients).

Gallstones occur in all ethnic groups and at any age from adolescence throughout life. They are more common in women, during childbearing years, and in Hispanics and Native Americans. Sometimes they occur in a person with no family history of gallstones, but more often there is a history of a close relative who also has had gallstones.
    
Symptoms of gallbladder disease include upper right abdominal pain, especially after eating greasy food.  The pain can radiate straight through to the back (also on the right) or often to the right shoulder.   The pain is usually cramping pain as the gallbladder spasms without emptying properly. More severe symptoms that could require emergency surgery include fever, yellow eyes (jaundice), or pain that does not resolve in a few hours.  Any of these symptoms in a patient with diabetes can be dangerous.

There is no role for removing only the stones, since more stones will form, and since people live a normal life without a gallbladder.There is often a choice to “watch and wait”, to avoid or delay surgery,  if the pain can be controlled by eating a no-fat diet.If gallstones are discovered during pregnancy, it is normal to wait, avoid fatty food, and have a cholecystectomy after delivering the baby.

There is no scientific evidence that stones will disappear without surgery, once they have been detected. Some risks of avoiding surgery include increasing pain, gallbladder inflammation or infection, jaundice (yellow eyes), and pancreas or liver inflammation.For these reasons, once gallstones have been diagnosed and have caused pain, surgery is usually recommended. 

Following a cholecystectomy (gallbladder surgery), the liver continues to form bile which empties into the intestine and continues to help digest fatty food.  There is no special diet, but it is healthier - as always - to avoid fatty and rich food, and to eat plenty of colorful fruit and vegetables. 

 

 


 

Page Last Modified: 02/22/2010
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