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Gallbladder: Your Not-So-Vital Organ

By Gregg Drabek, MD, FACS April 23, 2020 Posted in: Gastroenterology

Call it necessary but not quite essential. Your gallbladder is a small organ that’s tucked behind your liver. Its job is to store the fat-digesting bile produced by the liver. What makes it unique is that it’s one of few organs that can be removed without major consequence. 

How Does the Gallbladder Work?

Normally, when you eat, bile from the gallbladder goes into your small intestine where it helps digest fats. When that happens, the gallbladder changes shape – from the size of a small pear before you eat to flat and empty after a meal.

Are Gallbladder Problems Common?

Most people never have a problem with their gallbladder, but some can develop gallstones that occur when bile crystallizes. These can be harmless, but they can also cause pain, nausea or inflammation. A gallstone can also block a pancreas duct, a serious condition which causes inflammation. An infection can also occur that requires the gallbladder to be removed more urgently. In rare cases, gallbladder cancer can necessitate removal.

Symptoms Related to Gallbladder Issues Include:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Sharp abdominal pain
    • Especially in the upper right abdomen
    • Sometimes radiates to the middle abdomen, back or right shoulder
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin)

When is Gallbladder Surgery Necessary?

Surgery to remove the gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy. It’s typically done laparoscopically with four small incisions, a tiny video camera and special tools to remove the organ. Rarely, a large incision is needed for what’s called an open cholecystectomy. Patients generally recover in a few days or less for a laparoscopic procedure, and a week or more for an open procedure.

Once the gallbladder is removed, the liver adjusts by releasing bile directly into the small intestine. Digestion generally continues as normal. Sometimes fatty, greasy or high-fiber foods can be more difficult to digest and cause diarrhea, gas or bloating. In those cases, some diet changes can ease digestion. 

For additional questions, reach out to a CHI Health Provider today.

Gregg Drabek, MD, FACS
Gregg Drabek, MD, FACS

Dr. Drabek is a General Surgeon at CHI Health.

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