Gallbladder Attack, Infection Problems, Symptoms, Pain Relief & Treatment Options
The gallbladder is one of the most overlooked organs in the body. Although it is not the biggest of organs, the fact, however, is that a dysfunctional gallbladder can cause serious health problems.
In this article, we take a look at the gallbladder, problems of the gallbladder, and treatment options available for the problems.
What is the gallbladder?
The gallbladder is an internal body organ with the shape of a pear. The gallbladder is situated close to the liver, and serves as a temporary storage site for bile – digestive fluid secreted by the liver and helps in digestion of fats. When needed, the gallbladder releases the stored bile into the small intestine where it acts on fats.
What does bile do in the body?
Most gallbladder problems are caused by dysfunction in bile production in the liver or bile release by the gallbladder. That said, below are the four main functions of bile in the body:
- Digestion of fats: Although this has already been stated, it is a very important function of bile. An insufficient production or underutilization of bile can cause fat indigestion problems.
- Metabolism of blood glucose: Apart from the digestion of fats, bile also plays a role in the breakdown of sugar in the body. Certain bio-receptors in the body need bile acids in order to be activated.
- Excretion: The liver is an excretory organ, as it helps to get rid of harmful substances in the body. These toxins are found in bile, which is then passed out in feces. What’s more, bile promotes peristalsis in the intestines, needed for excretion.
- Detoxification: Sufficient bile production is required to control bacteria population in the small intestine. The release of bile into the small intestine helps to reduce the population of bad bacteria there.
Common Gallbladder Attack Problems
Gallbladder problems or diseases are diseases that specifically affect the gallbladder. The following are some of the common gallbladder problems
Gallbladder stones (cholelithiasis)
- This is the most common type of gallbladder problem. Gallbladder stones, or gallstones, are tiny stone-like deposits in the gallbladder. These deposits are usually the result of cholesterol in bile (cholesterol gallstones), while a few are due to calcium bilirubinate deposits – called pigment gallstones. Most people with gallstones are not aware of the condition until when it becomes dangerous. Left untreated, gallstones can lead to acute inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis).
- Cholecystis is the inflammation of the gallbladder. This inflammation can either be short-term or long term. Over time, cholecystitis can cause the gallbladder to lose its functionality.
Common bile duct infection
- Obstruction in the common bile duct can lead to an infection. The key to treating such an infection is early detection.
Choledocholithiasis (Common bile duct stones)
- This condition is actually a type of gallstones. The difference, however, between choledochholithiasis and normal gallstones is in their locations. Choledocholithiasis occurs in the common bile duct that connects the gallbladder with the small intestine.
- Ileus is the blockage of the ileum (part of the small intestine). When a gallstone moves into the small intestine and blocks it, then it is called gallstone ileus. And while this condition is not common, it is life-threatening.
- Know how porcelain is hard? Then, you should have a little idea about porcelain gallbladder. Under normal conditions, a person’s gallbladder has pliable walls, but a porcelain gallbladder is the direct opposite. This condition is marked by rigid gallbladder walls, which is caused by calcium deposits.
Acalculoous gallbladder disease
- This is a condtion that affects the gallbladder without the formation of stones. Though there are no stone deposits, the symptoms of this disease are similar to those of gallstones.
A polyp is a usually benign growth on the surface of a membrane. Although most gallbladder polyps are not dangerous, there may be a need to get rid of larger ones as they can become life-threatening.
Primary sclerosing cholangitis
- This is a condition marked by the inflammation of the bile causing a constriction of the bile ducts. The main reason for this condition remains unclear, hence, it is often classified as an idiopathic condition.
- Empyema is the collection of pus or abscess in a body cavity. In some rare cases, people with gallbladder stones may experience intense pain in the abdominal region. This pain is due to the release of pus in the gallbladder. And like most other gallbladder conditions, early detection of this problem will help in effective treatment.
- As the name implies, a perforated gallbladder is one that has hole(s) due to gallstones. A perforated gallbladder can cause serious health issues if left untreated.
- This is a rare type of cancer that affects the gallbladder. Gallbladder cancer can spread to other parts of the body if it is not detected early enough.
Symptoms of gallbladder problems
While the symptoms may be different depending on the type gallbladder problem, all gallbladder problems are characterized by the following symptoms:
- Pain: Pain in the mid- to upper abdominal region is a common sign of gallbladder problem. This pain may also extend to other parts of the body like the shoulder, and gets worse when deep-breathing or after eating.
- Fever: An abnormal rise in body temperature may also be a sign of some gallbladder infection. If left untreated, the fever can degenerate to something worse.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tenderness in the upper abdomen
- Chest pain
- Bitter taste in the mouth
- Headache: A congested gallbladder puts stress on the body leading to headaches.
- Itchy skin: Blockage in the gallbladder can cause an increase in autotaxin and LPA (lysophosphatidic acid), which in turn results in pruritus or an itchy skin.
- Indigestion: Bile is needed for the digestion of fats. When there is a problem with the production or release of bile, then fats will not be properly digested.
- Jaundice or yellowing of the skin: Jaundice is caused by an excess of bilirubin – a yellow pigment found in bile. Though jaundice is not a primary symptom of a gallbladder condition, it is a usual complication of gallstone.
- Diarrhea: Constipation and diarrhea are also possible symptoms of gallbladder disease.
- Discolored urine: People with gallbladder problems may pass out urine that is darker in color than normal. This symptom is usually a sign of an obstructed bile duct.
- Loss of appetite: This is more like a loss of hunger due to the feeling of fullness.
- Fatty stools: Due to partially digested fats, a person with gallbladder disease may pass fatty stools when excreting.
- Bloating and flatulence: A dysfunction in the gallbladder can lead to excess gas in the alimentary canal, and a feeling of fullness in the stomach – bloating.
- Fibromyalgia: Gallbladder problems can also cause fibromyalgia, which is a condition of intense pain in the muscles.
Factors that increase the risk of gallbladder problems
The following are some factors that can increase the risk of developing gallbladder problems:
- Being over 40 years old
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
- Being pregnant
- Eating high-cholesterol foods
- Eating foods high in fat
- Being a female
- Genetic factors
- Family history
- Taking certain medications, such as birth control pills
- Having an underlying medical condition like diabetes
- Rapid weight loss
Diagnosis of gallbladder problems
Diagnosis of gallbladder conditions usually begins with any of the following tests:
- This is a nuclear test that involves the injection of a dye into the vein, and is then released into the bile. The test is used to test for cholecystitis. If the bile does not move from the liver to the gallbladder, then the person likely has cholecystitis.
MRCP (Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography)
- This test uses an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner for treating gallbladder conditions.
- An endoscopic ultrasound test is meant for detecting choledocholithiasis. This test uses a very small ultrasound proble that is inserted via the mouth to the intestines.
ERCP (Endoscopic retrograde choloangiopancreatography)
- During an ERCP, the doctor can treat gallbladder problems by inserting certain tools.
- While ineffective in diagnosing gallbladder disease, x-ray scans can be used for detecting gallbladder stones.
Treatment for gallbladder problems
Treatment of gallbladder problems will depend on the specific type of problem or the cause of the symptoms. The following are some of the treatment options for gallbladder problems:
- Antibiotics: While they are unable to totally cure cholecystitis, antibiotics can help in controlling the spread of cholecystitis infection.
- Lithotripsy: This is a medical treatment that involves the use of shockwaves through the abdomen to crush gallbladder stones. This method of gallstone treatment is, however, effective when there are only a few small stones in the gallbladder.
- Chemotherapy: Cancer treatment methods like radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used to control gallbladder cancer.
- Oral medicine: People with gallbladder problems that are not able to undergo surgery have the option of using oral medicines like chenodiol or ursodeoxycholic acid. These drugs can help to dissolve gallbladder stones, as well as to improve the symptoms.
- Cholecystectomy: This is a surgical operation that is done to remove the gallbladder. This technique is usually as a sort of last resort, when other alternatives have been tried without good results. During a cholecystectomy, the surgeon uses a laparoscope to make small incisions in the abdominal wall in order to remove the gallbladder – this method is known as laparoscopic cholecystectomy. An alternative is laparotomy or ope cholecystectomy, where the incisions are larger.
Prevention of gallbladder problems
- Keeping the body healthy by living and eating right is the best way of preventing gallbladder problems. That being said, the following are helpful tips that can help you in preventing gallbladder problems:
- Regular exercise: Exercising everyday does not only help to keep your gallbladder in good shape, but your entire body. Simple exercises like jogging and swimming can help here, as well as other forms of exercise.
- Go for regular check-ups: As have been mentioned several times in this article, early detection is the key to a successful treatment of gallbladder problems. This means that visiting a doctor regularly is necessary if you want to prevent any gallbladder issue.
- Keep a healthy weight: Obesity or being overweight can also contribute to the development of some gallbladder problems. As such, you need to watch your weight.
- Lose weight gradually: Losing weight at a fast rate can be dangerous to your gallbladder health. It is important that you lose weight gradually if you are overweight. Losing about 2 pounds each week is a good way to start.
- Drink lots of water: Dehydration is bad for the overall body health. Therefore, hydrating by drinking plenty of water during the day is a good way of preventing damage to your gallbladder.
- Consume small meals: Eating heavy meals can put a strain on the liver, which in turn can affect the gallbladder. Thus, it is better to eat only small meals at a time than consuming a heavy one.
- Avoid high cholesterol foods: We mentioned here that gallstones usually arise due to cholesterol in bile. So, in order to prevent the deposits from forming in the gallbladder, it is necessary that you stay away from foods with high cholesterol content.
- Eat healthily: Like we stated in the introduction of this section, eating rightly is important for a healthy gallbladder. A healthy diet containing whole grains, fruits, fiber, and vegetables is a good and effective preventative formula for gallbladder problems.
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods: Apart from eating a healthy meal, you should also include anti-inflammatory foods or spices like garlic.
- Do not skip meals: Having an irregular eating schedule can increase the risk of developing gallbladder problems, especially gallstones. Thus, it is essential that you eat at regular times every day.
- Intermittent fasting: This is like countering the previous point; however, intermittent fasting involves deliberate abstinence from food for some period of time. Moreover, during intermittent fasting, it is not necessary to skip your meals, as you can still eat all your meals during your non-fasting window.