About the Gallbladder
The gallbladder is a small pear shaped organ that lies in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen underneath the liver. It is connected to the common bile duct, which carries bile from the liver to the small intestine. Its function is to store the bile made by the liver. During meals a hormone signal causes the gallbladder to contract and empty extra bile into the intestine to help with digestion.
When a gallbladder is inflamed or contains stones, it cannot function in its usual fashion. Anyone can develop gallbladder disease, but it is more common in women and in people who are overweight or over the age of 35. There also appears to be a strong hereditary component to gallbladder disease.
While most people with gallbladder disease do not experience any symptoms, inflammation of the bile duct can cause these mild, common symptoms:
- Indigestion, gas, bloating burping or belching—especially after a meal
- Abdomen pain on the right side and the upper back
- Pain after eating fatty foods when passing gas or over-the-counter pain relievers do not relieve the discomfort
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea or vomiting
- Intermittent pain occurring regularly
For acute gallbladder attacks, symptoms caused by a gallstone blockage or buildup of bile blocks the duct can have much more severe consequences when not treated immediately. These symptoms are more constant and acute:
- Severe abdomen pain on the right side or in the back that lasts for days
- Pain in the back, under the shoulder blades or the breastbone, or on the left side
- Pain often happens at night and may be worse when taking a deep breath
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
Surgical Treatment of Gallbladder Disease
Surgical removal of the gallbladder is the treatment of choice when patients become symptomatic. The surgery is usually performed by laparoscopy, in which a camera is inserted through a small incision at the navel and used to view the gallbladder. Narrow instruments are inserted through three other small incisions. Carbon dioxide gas inflates the abdomen and creates space for the surgeon to be able to access and remove the gallbladder.