What Does the Gallbladder Do and What Happens When It Malfunctions?

The gallbladder is rarely on anyone’s radar until something goes amiss with it. This small but mighty organ can cause some major digestive issues when it fails to function properly.

Receiving a diagnosis of gallbladder disease can leave you wondering just what is the gallbladder? Read on to learn how this pear-shaped organ works and what happens when it fails.

Gallbladder 101

The gallbladder is a small organ situated just below your liver. Its primary purpose is to hold bile, an important digestive fluid secreted by the liver. This yellow liquid is composed of bile acid, salts, and fatty substances including cholesterol. Bile aids in digesting fats and is needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

How does the gallbladder function?

When you eat a meal, many systems spring into action and work together to break down food, utilize or store the nutrients, and excrete the rest. The gallbladder is one part of a larger system in place that enables you to digest components from the food you eat.

When you consume fat-containing food, your gallbladder contracts, squeezing bile into the small intestine, where it’s needed to make use of the fat from your diet. Without bile, your body can’t digest fats properly. The amount of bile your gallbladder releases is in proportion to the amount of fat in your digestive system. If you consume a low-fat meal, your gallbladder releases a small amount of bile to get the job done.

Gallbladder problems

Like any organ in the body, the gallbladder can experience problems functioning. Anyone can develop gallbladder issues. However, you’re at a higher risk if you:

Most commonly, gallstones develop and prevent the gallbladder from functioning properly. These rock-like pebbles, usually composed mostly of cholesterol that becomes hard and crystallizes, can vary in size and clog up your gallbladder.

Many people who have gallstones have no symptoms. When stones become large or block your bile ducts, symptoms are usually prominent. Symptoms of gallstones are:

Symptoms that come on after eating a fatty meal are telltale signs of gallbladder disease. Some patients with gallbladder disease experience chronic diarrhea.

Gallbladder problems can also happen without stones. The gallbladder can become inflamed or develop polyps, for example.

Don’t ignore gallbladder issues

You should never ignore gallbladder problems because potentially serious complications can arise if they’re left untreated. An obstruction of the bile duct can cause infection. If not found and treated early, the infection can spread and become fatal.

Treating gallbladder disease with surgery

By the time you’re having recurring or constant symptoms, it’s time to get treatment. Surgery to remove the gallbladder and redirect bile flow is the most common way to treat gallbladder disease. At Rockwall Surgical Specialists, our top-quality surgeons specialize in minimally invasive surgical approaches. Your surgeon can safely remove your gallbladder using laparoscopic or single-site robotic surgery.

Laparoscopic surgery involves removing the gallbladder by making small holes, instead of one long incision. Single-site robotic surgery involves one tiny incision through your navel. Both surgical approaches reduce the risk of complications and improve the aesthetic outcome, resulting in less scarring. In fact, the single-site robotic approach provides a virtually scarless result.

Some people aren’t candidates for the laparoscopic or single-site robotic approach. If this is the case, your surgeon can discuss open gallbladder surgery. Laparoscopic or single-site robotic approach may not be appropriate if your gallbladder is severely damaged, or you have scar tissue from a previous abdominal surgery.

When to see a doctor

If you notice pain in the area beneath your liver, experience nausea or vomit after a fatty meal, or have diarrhea after eating fatty food, it’s time to see a doctor for a comprehensive evaluation. Don’t put off addressing gallbladder issues. Once diseased, the gallbladder doesn’t usually get better on its own, and putting off treatment raises your risk of complications.

To learn more about gallbladder disease treatment at Rockwall Surgical Specialists, visit the office nearest you. We’re located in Rowlett, Rockwall, Greenville, and Forney, Texas. Call or request an appointment online today.

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