What Causes Gallbladder Disease?

Most people rarely think about their gallbladder until it starts causing uncomfortable symptoms, such as pain, nausea, vomiting, or chronic diarrhea. Unfortunately, when these problems arise, they often need surgical intervention. 

At Surgical Associates of North Texas in McKinney, Texas, Scott A. deVilleneuve, MD, is an expert in minimally invasive and laparoscopic gallbladder surgery. In this blog, Dr. deVilleneuve explains what the gallbladder is and what can cause gallbladder disease.

What does a gallbladder do?

This small, pear-shaped organ is approximately four inches in size and tucked behind your liver on the upper right side of your abdomen. The gallbladder doesn’t have a very glamorous job. It basically stores the mixture of fat, cholesterol, and fluids produced by your liver, known as bile. 

Bile helps your body break down fat in the food you eat, making it easier for fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients to get absorbed into your bloodstream. Each time you eat, your gallbladder releases stored-up bile into your small intestine, so it can get to work. 

Since your liver produces the bile and your gallbladder simply stores it, your body doesn’t need a gallbladder to break down fat. However, without this organ to store and release bile when you eat, it moves directly into your small intestine. That means it can be more difficult for your body to digest large amounts of greasy, fatty, or high-fiber items. This can lead to unpleasant symptoms, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. 

Fortunately, you can avoid these issues by limiting your fat and fiber intake and eating smaller portions throughout the day, or by taking steps to prevent gallbladder disease. But, if you need your gallbladder removed, do know that surgeons remove an estimated 700,000 gallbladders each year due to disease, and people live perfectly normal lives without them.

Recognizing gallbladder issues

Gallbladder disease describes a variety of conditions that can affect this digestive organ. There are several types of gallbladder disease, but the most common involves gallstones

Gallstones occur when hard particles form and block passageways to the gallbladder and small intestine. These stones can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Gallstones can cause significant pain, irritation, and inflammation, especially if they cause blockages.

Symptoms of gallbladder disease include:

Gallbladder disease can also cause your stools to appear pale- or clay-colored.

Knowing your risks for gallbladder disease

Gallbladder disease typically occurs because your system gets overwhelmed by too much cholesterol or bilirubin. Bilirubin is a pigment created in your liver when red blood cells break down. When these substances don’t dissolve as they should, stones can form. Some people also produce gallstones if their gallbladder doesn’t empty properly.

Several factors can increase your risk of developing gallstones, including:

Taking certain medications — such as diuretics or substances that contain estrogen — can also increase your chances of developing gallstones. 

If you think you have gallstones, Dr. deVilleneuve can outline your treatment options. Gallbladder surgery may not be necessary, but it often relieves uncomfortable symptoms and can prevent potentially serious complications, such as gallbladder cancer.

If you think you may have issues with your gallbladder, book an appointment online or over the phone with Surgical Associates of North Texas today.

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