Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease: A Personal Account

Updated on December 5, 2017

Disclaimer: Let me start by saying, I am not a doctor nor am I a nurse or paramedic. I have no medical training whatsoever, but like all of us, I was born with a gallbladder so I feel comfortable relating my personal experience—my personal nightmare with gallbladder problems—symptoms that went incorrectly diagnosed for four years.

What Is the Gallbladder and What 's Its Function?

In order to define what the gallbladder is and what it does, we have to first talk about its big brother—the liver. The liver, among other things, is responsible for cleansing dead red blood cells and toxins from the blood. The liver also produces bile. The gallbladder, which lies underneath the liver on the right side of the body, acts as a "storage reservoir" for this bile. When you eat a meal, particularly one that is high in fat, your gallbladder contracts like a balloon. This contraction causes bile to flow through ducts into the small intestine where it can start to work on digesting the fat you just ate.

What Problems Can You Have?

Gallstones: They are not quite sure what causes these, but bile which consists largely of cholesterol, can crystallize over time and the result is either "sand" in the gallbladder or full-blown "stones." Many people have this condition but have no symptoms—having gallstones or "sand" is no guarantee that you will have symptoms of gallbladder disease. However for some, gallstones can cause symptoms such as pain after eating, bloating, pain underneath the right rib and/or right shoulder, gas, and nausea. The medical term for gallstones is cholelithiasis.

Inflammation: The medical term is cholecystitis. The symptoms are severe pain, fever, and nausea with possible vomiting. If you are this sick, it is likely surgery will be your next step.

Gallstone pancreatitis: When a gallstone blocks the ducts that drain the pancreas, inflammation of the pancreas can result. This is a serious condition, and again, will likely require surgery to remedy the problem.

Diagnosis

This is the part of the piece when the frustration I experienced will shine through. Insurance companies insist that tests be run in a certain sequence—least invasive (less costly) to more invasive (more costly.) And, okay—I can see the sense in this. At first, I played the game.

So for the first of many tests, I was sent for was an abdominal ultrasound. This painless procedure is much like the ultrasounds that pregnant women undergo in order to determine the development of the fetus. An ultrasound technician places a lubricating gel on your abdomen. The ultrasound "wand" is then moved around your stomach; sound waves produce an image of your internal organs in "real-time." The technician will measure the gallbladder, check for thickening of the walls, and check for stones. This test is very good at diagnosing gallstones as they clearly show on the images. However, this test cannot usually detect "sand" in your gallbladder and cannot determine the functionality of the organ—your gallbladder may have simply quit "functioning" but ultrasound won't detect this. Each time I went for the ultrasound, no stones were detected, and no thickening of the organ was detected.

The next test—if your physician believes you are having gallbladder issues—is the HIDA scan or cholescintigraphy. This is a painless procedure that involves injecting radioactive dye into your bloodstream. This dye is in turn secreted into the bile. This test will determine if bile is making it from the liver to the gallbladder and is a fairly good diagnostic tool for determining gallbladder disease where gallstones aren't obviously present.

This is the way it is supposed to proceed. However, many physicians simply refuse to listen to their patients' symptoms. And in all fairness, gallbladder disease can be difficult to diagnose—particularly in the absence of gallstones. It can mimic many other common disorders. But it's your job as the patient, as the healthcare consumer, to ask the right questions and to insist your doctor listens to you.

Do the research. Ask the right questions. Don't be afraid to seek a second or even a third opinion. Many physicians simply refuse to consider gallbladder, at first, if your presentation or symptoms deviate from those found in the textbooks. Up until the day I was scheduled for surgery, my primary care physician still had her doubts as to whether my problems were indeed gallbladder-related.

I suffered almost continuous pain (underneath the right lower rib), bloating, nausea, gas, and a general feeling of malaise for nearly four years. I rarely experienced vomiting, but let me assure you, my quality of life was greatly affected.

Treatment

While they are some alternative treatments, surgery is almost always the best option. Laparoscopic surgery can typically be performed on an outpatient basis and is relatively painless and affords a quick recovery - within three days, I was feeling well enough to return to work. In some instances, traditional surgery is required with a full abdominal incision, etc. This is the last resort as the recovery time could be as much as 5-6 weeks complete with a 5-7 day stay in the hospital. That being said, laparoscopic surgery is the surgery of choice for this procedure and delivers excellent results.

What to Expect Living Without a Gallbladder

For the vast majority of people, life without a gallbladder will be no different than life with a healthy one. However, for a month or two after your surgery, you may have cramping and diarrhea—particularly after eating a fatty meal. This can come about very quickly so I recommend you plan accordingly. For some people, the body never does fully adjust, and this cramping and diarrhea can be a continuing problem. But it is a problem you can avoid by limiting high-fat meals and planning ahead—in other words, don't eat a Big Mac and large fries if you aren't prepared to hang around a bathroom shortly after the fact. But it is certainly nothing compared to suffering with gallbladder disease.

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      Johne247 3 years ago

      Definitely, what a fantastic website and informative posts, I definitely will bookmark your blog.All the Best! bdecbfakddgk

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      Johnd215 3 years ago

      Thanks for this article. I'd also like to convey that it can always be hard if you find yourself in school and starting out to initiate a long history of credit. There are many college students who are only trying to live and have long or good credit history can often be a difficult thing to have. akeecfabkadf

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      Elize Swart 5 years ago

      Oh my word, I am going thru this excruciating pain right now, I'm due to see the dr friday, hopefully they will do an ultrasound and hopefully I can have this treated or removed sooner or later. I just wish there was something I could do to make the pain more bareable, I find that a hotwater bottle right on the spot helps quite a lot. Its just very odd to me I had my 1st attack on a saturday 3 weeks ago, next day it was gone and I was perfect, next day I got it again not as severe and it came and went by thursday I got very worried as my bowel became the color or clay and my pee became very dark, by the next day the whites of my eyes were going yellow as did my face, 3 days after the day before I went to the dr it dissapeared and its been 4 days since I had any pain. Yesterday was a week since I went to see the dr an appointment was schedulled for this friday again. Most of the pain are all back, I have changed to a very low fat diet. Its just very unstable I have no idea how I just wish I can stop the pain.

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      Fay Paxton 6 years ago

      This is scary stuff but good to know. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.

      Voted up and very useful

    • DTR0005 profile image
      Author

      Doug Robinson 6 years ago from Midwest

      Thank you Healing Touch for stopping by to read it.

    • Healing Touch profile image

      Laura Arne 6 years ago from Minnetonka, MN

      DTR

      Thanks for sharing this useful hub as I know it could help many. I am so glad your done with that. Thanks for the info

    • DTR0005 profile image
      Author

      Doug Robinson 6 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks so much guys for coming by and taking a read. And yes... it was incredibly frustrating.

    • QudsiaP1 profile image

      QudsiaP1 6 years ago

      Oi... Scary stuff D.

      Well, I can say one thing for certain, doctors are just as clueless when it comes to diagnosing as we may be, therefore a little research before going under the knife is always better.

      Last year, in June, I got jaundice, which no one could diagnose and multiple wrong prescriptions later. I was rushed to emergency. I thought I would die, the amateur interns, turned my arms into a bruised mess.

      The so called qualified doctor, prescribed more wrong drugs, leaving me with even MORE severe of a condition. It was only after I turned 'yellow' that they realised I had jaundice.

      The jaundice lasted almost 5 months, My weight dropped down to 39 kg (85.8 lbs). To add to my misery, I developed all possible complications and was convinced, I would not live to see 2011.

      Only when you fall critically sick, do you realise, who your true friends are.

      Long story short, research well, before relying on your doctor.

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      Jason Menayan 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Great info. Someone very close to me had to have their gallbladder removed, and attention to fat in their diet has been the biggest change post-surgery.