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Time to Say Goodbye to Your Gallbladder?

Gallbladder giving you trouble? Know when it’s time to take a trip to the doc — and possibly more.

Gallbladders are the “mystery organ.” While many may not know the gallbladder’s purpose, they know that it often needs to be removed.

Gallbladders can cause many issues, but minimally invasive treatment options improve most — if not all — symptoms. And, a short recovery time allows for relief and your normal life to resume almost as quickly as you can say “goodbye” to your gallbladder.

What is the gallbladder, anyway?

The gallbladder takes bile — the fluid that helps digest food — and stores it until you eat. When you eat and digestion occurs, the gallbladder contracts and sends the stored bile to the small intestine.

The gallbladder is connected with the liver and the small intestine by tiny ducts called the biliary tract. Ideally, the transition of bile from the liver, to the gallbladder and to then small intestine runs smoothly.

What happens when the gallbladder doesn't work right?

Problems with the gallbladder are usually caused by gallstones. Gallstones are a hardened buildup of digestive fluids. Interestingly, many people with gallstones do not show symptoms, and symptoms may not appear for upwards of 20 years.

However, issues with gallstones may begin when the gallstones move from the gallbladder and into the small, connecting ducts surrounding the organ.

These ducts can become clogged, causing sharp pain and inflammation in the area of the gallbladder. This inflammation of the gallbladder, called cholecystitis, can happen suddenly (acute cholecystitis) or throughout a long period of time (chronic cholecystitis).

Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, fever and even jaundice. Symptoms from gallstones and gallbladder inflammation may arise after eating rich, fatty meals or at night.

How are gallbladder symptoms diagnosed?

When diagnosing gallbladder symptoms, abdominal ultrasounds are very effective in detecting gallstones that can cause severe pain and inflammation. While this is typically the simplest and one of the most effective tests in diagnosing gallstones and gallbladder inflammation, other methods, such as CT scans and blood tests, may be used.

Another option is a HIDA scan, which uses harmless radioactive dye to track the movement of the gallbladder and its surrounding ducts.

What are my treatment options for gallbladder pain?

If you have gallstones but no adverse symptoms: Patients who have gallstones but have not experienced any resulting symptoms typically are advised to keep a watchful eye while losing weight by exercising within recommended guidelines and eating a healthy diet low in sugars and carbohydrates.

If you have gallstones and/or gallbladder inflammation with severe symptoms: Gallbladder removal surgery, also called a cholecystectomy, is a common and effective solution to getting rid of gallstones and gallbladder inflammation. Gallbladder removal can be conducted with two methods: open surgery or a minimally invasive approach, which includes laparoscopic surgery and robotic-assisted surgery.

Historically, surgeons would perform "open surgery," which includes making an approximately six-inch incision in the abdomen and removing the gallbladder.

Thanks to improvements in the procedure, patients can opt for a laparoscopic surgery or robotic-assisted surgery, which are less invasive. With these procedures, the surgeon makes small incisions and uses a laparoscope (which has an attached camera) or a robotic-assisted surgical platform like the da Vinci systems available at Tanner, to see and remove the gallbladder without making a large incision or cutting through the abdominal muscles.

More information on gallbladder surgical techniques are available in the Tanner Health Library.

Typical recovery times for both procedures vary, but you may be able to go home the same day if laparoscopic gallbladder surgery is the best option for your health. Open method gallbladder surgery may add an additional day or two in recovery. Both surgery methods are available at Tanner and are typically successful with side effects being rare.

If you think you may have symptoms which point to gallbladder issues, including gallstones and inflammation, learn more here now or call 770-214-CARE (2273) for a physician referral.

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