The gallbladder is a sac-like structure located under the liver on the right side of your body. The main function of the gallbladder is to store bile created by the liver until it is needed for digesting fatty foods.
When the gallbladder does not function properly or gallstones develop, the result is gallbladder disease. Gallstones are the most common occurring form of gallbladder disease.
Gallstones are formed when substances in the bile crystallize and become solid. These stones can irritate the gallbladder. If the stones move into the bile duct, they can prevent bile from moving and lead to pain, nausea and infection.
One of the most common symptoms of gallbladder disease is pain, often on the right side under your rib cage. The pain can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. For many individuals, the pain comes after you have digested a fatty meal.
These pain episodes pass over time. They can be weekly, monthly or yearly. As your gallbladder becomes more diseased, these episodes occur more frequently. Other symptoms include gas, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, fever, a yellowing of the skin, sweating and vomiting.
The symptoms typically occur after meals, particularly after consumption of fried or spicy foods and salads.
Gallstones are detected through the use of ultrasound and CT scans. CT scans provide detailed images of the abdomen that are necessary to rule out the possibility of other causes of abdominal pain. A HIDA scan (hepatobiliary scan) uses radioactive fluid to check the gallbladder function. This scan enables surgeons to determine if there is a blockage in the bile duct.
The treatment for gallbladder disease varies depending on the severity. For many people, changes to the diet will work, but for others with more advanced gallbladder disease, it might be necessary to remove the gallbladder through surgery.
Today, cholecystectomy surgery (removal of the gallbladder) is most often performed laparoscopically or through robotic-assisted surgery. There are many benefits to a laparoscopic or robotic-assisted surgery. Patients typically recover and return to their daily activities quicker with this type of minimally invasive surgery. Since laparoscopic and robotic-assisted surgery are not ideal for every patient, there is the option of conventional open surgery.
It is important to treat symptoms of gallbladder disease before complications such as pancreatitis, liver disease and jaundice occur. If you experience the symptoms of gallbladder disease, talk with your doctor about the best treatment options for you.