The gallbladder is a tiny organ that fits nicely on the underside of the liver. It functions in the breakdown of fats in the body. Sometimes stones can develop here and block the duct leading from the organ, causing a variety of problems.
People have heard of kidney stones and the pain associated with them, but they may not be quite as familiar with gallstones. They can cause just as much pain as kidney stones but there is something that you can do about it.
Here is what we know about the gallbladder. It is a tiny pouch that is the color of a robin’s egg when it is healthy. The liver sits on top of it and passes bile for storage. This bile is used to break down fats so that they can be used by the body or transported for storage.
The gallbladder has a blood supply and a cystic duct through which the bile and fats leave the gallbladder and proceed through the digestive system to the intestines. There is also a common bile duct that collects enzymes and other products from other organs to join with the bile heading for the intestines.
Gallstones are cholesterol deposits (amongst other things) from the bile that flows into it. When the stones remain small like pebbles or grains they don’t usually cause a problem. It is when the stones are big enough to block the bile flow that a problem occurs. Anyone can have gallstones and plenty of people can have them for a long time with no symptoms and no need to treat them.
How do you know that you are having a problem with your gallbladder? It often takes a doctor to diagnose the problem. The symptoms that some may experience can be indicative of other conditions as well, so a comprehensive exam needs to be performed. In the absence of symptoms, treatment is not necessarily needed.
What many people experience is pain. This pain is not at the level of the gallbladder but referenced to the upper back or between the shoulder blades. There is also pain in the abdomen that can become quite intense for a while but subside. This could signify a gallbladder attack.
Pain that occurs under the ribs can make someone think of heartburn. They may believe that something they ate has given them the pain but not suspect any correlation with the gallbladder. The person may also experience fever and chills from the blockage.
This is a bit easier to nail down. When the stones get large enough they may move around. As the bile (a viscous brown fluid) moves out of the gallbladder, it can carry stones to the neck of the duct. Bile can’t pass but the liver will continue to make it. Blockages in the common bile duct can lead to problems with the pancreas.
If you are having any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor to rule out gallstones.