The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ under the liver. It stores bile, a fluid made by the liver that helps to digest fat. As the stomach and intestines digest food, the gallbladder releases bile through a tube called the cystic duct to a tube called the common bile duct. This duct connects the gallbladder and liver to the small intestine.
Your gallbladder is most likely to give you trouble if something, usually a gallstone, blocks the flow of bile through the bile ducts or out of the gallbladder.
Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease
Signs of a gallstone attack may include nausea, vomiting and/or pain in the upper abdomen. Pain can even radiate to the back or shoulder. These symptoms are typically worse after a meal – especially one that is very large or high in fat. Gallstone attacks can occur immediately after the meal or up to several hours after eating. The telltale sign of gallbladder problems is discomfort pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, just under the rib cage.
Causes of Gallstones
There are several causes of gallstone formation. It is due to an imbalance in the things that bile is comprised. Some risk indicators of gallstones include:
- being female
- being over the age of 40
- carrying excess weight
- rapid weight loss
- being premenopausal.
Some patients are more prone to developing gallstones than others, however many patients never experienced any symptoms and will never know they do in fact have gallstones.
Consequences of Untreated Gallbladder Problems
Most gallbladder problems do not pose imminent danger. However, patients will likely experience more frequent and more intense pain over time. Some cases of gallbladder disease can become problematic. The most common condition is experiencing episodic pain that resolves within an hour. The gallbladder may also become inflamed or infected. This is known as cholecystitis. More rarely stones can pass into the bile ducts and cause pancreatitis or an infection that can spread to the liver. A prolonged blockage of the common bile duct can also cause jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes and skin.
Most gallbladder-related problems get better with removal. Fortunately, the gallbladder is an organ that you can live without. Bile will still travel through the common bile duct to your intestine. Your body will compensate for the loss of the gallbladder.
Gallbladder Removal Surgery
Gallbladder removal surgery, known as cholecystectomy is one of the most commonly performed surgeries. Most of our cholecystectomies are performed using minimally invasive or laparoscopic techniques, including robotic assisted. A typical gallbladder removal requires four small incisions in the abdomen, the largest being around 1cm.
During surgery, the cystic duct connecting the gallbladder to the common bile duct will be identified. The artery supplying blood to the gallbladder will also be identified. After identifying these two structures clearly, Dr. Henke will partition the duct and artery using small titanium clamps. The gallbladder will then be removed from its attachments to the liver. A specially made surgical bag will be used to remove the gallbladder through the largest of the incisions in the abdomen.
The procedure is typically performed on an outpatient basis and patients are able to leave shortly after surgery. Most patients will experience some discomfort from the incisions, but this is manageable and well tolerated. You will be able to return to normal activities with minor lifting restrictions for a couple weeks. You are encouraged to follow a low fat diet, but the majority of patients return to the same diet they followed before surgery within a week or two. Patients should follow proper wound care techniques as outlined in their aftercare packet to make sure the incisions heal properly. Patients will be sent home with prescription for pain medication in case they have discomfort. Follow-up occurs approximately one to two weeks after surgery at the office.
Gallbladder surgery is one of the most commonly performed general surgical procedures in the United States and around the world. While it does come with some risks inherent to surgery in the abdomen, gallbladder removal remains one of the lowest risk major surgeries. A comprehensive discussion about risk will take place during consultation.
For more information and to schedule a consultation with Dr. Henke, please call us or e-mail us.
Reviewed by Dr. Jeff Henke and updated on September 5, 2018