Symptoms and Treatments for Gallbladder Disease and Dysfunction
Gallbladder disease can go undiagnosed in a person for a long time, because not only are symptoms often intermittent, but they can also mimic the symptoms of other disorders. Here is an explanation of what the gallbladder is for and what happens when it malfunctions.
What Does the Gallbladder Do?
The gallbladder is a small organ that that aids in the digestion of fats. It does this by releasing bile produced by the liver, which it has been storing in a concentrated form in anticipation of a fatty meal, via ducts into the small intestine. It is shaped like a pouch and sits nestled in and around the liver, pancreas, stomach, and intestines.
When a person's gallbladder is not functioning properly, it is considered gallbladder disease. Most cases include gallstones, and it is believed that most gallstones form when the liver excretes more cholesterol than the bile it produces can dissolve. Excess cholesterol turns crystalline, which is the beginning stage of stone formation. There are other types of gallstones, too, but they are less common.
Often gallstones will go undetected because they present no symptoms. Other times, symptoms can be quite severe.
Common symptoms of gallstones include:
- Nausea, vomiting
- A bloated feeling in the gut
- Excess belching, flatulence
- Clay colored stool
Pain that may occur with gallstones:
- Pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen, beneath the breastbone, between the shoulder blades or in the right shoulder.
- Pain may last a short while, up to a number of hours.
- Pain may be accompanied by vomiting.
- Pain normally occurs at the same time of day, after meals, and often happens at night.
- Signs of infection include jaundice, light colored stools, fever, chills and/or dark urine. Seek medical help right away if you have these symptoms.
Gallbladder Dysfunction Without Gallstones
Biliary dyskinesia is when the gallbladder is unable to contract properly or when the associated biliary ducts are malfunctioning, thus preventing the gallbladder from emptying itself of bile. Symptoms can mimic other gallbladder disorders, especially upper right quadrant pain. This is just one of the things that can go wrong with the gallbladder where stones are not present.
Additional possible symptoms of a gallbladder problem include:
- A feeling of fullness
- Diarrhea or soft stools
- Fatty stools
- Frequent headaches
What to Do if You Suspect a Gallbladder Problem
The first thing you should do is to get a proper diagnosis. There is no sense in treating yourself for a gallbladder disorder if you don't have one. If your physician confirms your suspicion, there are ways to manage the condition without surgery as long as you don't have an obstruction or infection caused by a gallstone.
Change Your Diet
Because the gallbladder is the most reactive to foods that are high in fat, eating a low fat diet is a good place to start. But there are other foods and beverages you might not suspect that cause symptoms. Foods like onions, coffee and grapefruit. Take a look at this gallbladder diet for more information on what to avoid.
Also, avoid overeating and replace the high fat items with foods high in fiber. Fiber helps the body eliminate excess cholesterol (which is what gallstones are made out of).
- Having insufficient vitamin C and E in your diet can contribute to gallstone formation.
- Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation.
- Herbal remedies can be useful for calming a gallbladder attack. Please seek professional guidance before self medicating with herbs. It should be noted that it is possible for any one of the herbs listed to interact with medications and/or trigger symptoms of a person's food intolerances.
Gallbladder disease tends to run in families, so if a parent or grandparent has had theirs removed, it is possible that you inherited the condition. It is not uncommon for spouses to both be diagnosed with a gallbladder disorder; this is because couples tend to follow the same diet—if it's hard on one person's gallbladder, it will be hard on the other's. So, taking your family history and your symptoms into account, if you suspect gallbladder dysfunction, it is best to see your physician.