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What’s the Function of the Gallbladder?

what's the function of the gallbladder

The gallbladder may be only a small organ in your body, but it’s essential. When there are issues with your gallbladder, it could cause you so much pain and even have adverse effects on other parts of your body. The unpleasant news is that some risk factors increase your chances of having gallstones, which is one of the major issues affecting the gallbladder. However, the good news is that there are things you can do to prevent these issues.

But, what’s the function of the gallbladder? How do gallstones affect your gallbladder, and what can you do to prevent gallbladder issues? Read on to find out. 

What is a Gallbladder?

Your gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ part of your digestive system. Its primary function is to store and release bile when needed. Bile is a thick liquid – a mixture of cholesterol, bilirubin, and bile salts – produced by your liver that helps you digest fats in your food.

When you are eating, the bile moves from your liver directly to your small intestine, where it helps in digesting the fat present in the food you eat. However, when you’re not eating, the bile needs to be stored somewhere. That’s where the gallbladder comes into play. Your gallbladder stores and concentrates bile, holding between 1 and 2.7 fluid ounces. This organ is located right under the upper part of your abdomen and sits under your liver. 

How Gallstones Affect Your Gallbladder

Now that you know the answer to “What is a gallbladder” and “What’s the function of the gallbladder?” Let’s talk about one of the common issues that affect your gallbladder — gallstones. Gallstones are stones or lumps that form in your gallbladder when certain substances harden. About 20 million Americans have gallstones, and they vary in size.

There’s still no clarity about what causes gallstones, but some possible causes may include:

  • Bile containing too much cholesterol: Your bile should typically contain enough chemicals to dissolve the cholesterol excreted by your liver. However, if your liver excretes more cholesterol than your bile can dissolve, the excess cholesterol forms into crystals and eventually may become stones.
  • Bile containing too much bilirubin: This is a chemical produced when your body breaks down red blood cells. However, some conditions such as liver cirrhosis may cause you to have excess bilirubin. When it’s in excess, it can form gallstones.
  • The gallbladder doesn’t empty well: This is either when it doesn’t empty completely or doesn’t empty often enough. In this case, bile gets concentrated and can form gallstones.

Most people living with gallstones don’t experience any symptoms because the stones can remain in your bladder with no issues. However, the stones can block a duct in the biliary system. Your biliary system consists of your liver, gall bladder, and bile ducts responsible for making, storing, and secreting bile. 

When this happens, you start to feel pain. Also, leaving symptomatic gallstones untreated can lead to complications.

The most common symptoms that occur when gallstones block your duct include:

  • Pain in the upper abdomen usually comes after eating heavy meals or high-fat foods (This pain is generally because the gallstones block the movement of the bile from the gallbladder)
  • Burping and indigestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain extending to the right shoulder and the shoulder blade
  • Yellowish color of skin or whites of your eyes
  • Tea-colored urine and light-colored stools 

Risk Factors of Gallstones

what's the function of the gallbladder

We have categorized the factors that may increase your risk of gallstones based on lifestyle choices, medical conditions, and uncontrollable conditions/circumstances.

  1. Lifestyle
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Losing weight very quickly
  • Being sedentary
  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Eating a high-cholesterol diet
  • Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates
  1. Medical
  • Being pregnant
  • Having diabetes
  • Taking medications that contain estrogen, e.g., oral contraceptives or hormone therapy
  • Having certain blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia
  • Having diabetes
  • Having liver disease
  1. Uncontrollable Factors
  • Being age 40 or older
  • Being Female
  • Being a Native American
  • Being a Hispanic of Mexican origin
  • Having a family history of gallstones 

What are the Complications of Gallstones?

As mentioned, gallstones can cause you more discomfort if left untreated. Some of these complications include the following: 

Cholecystitis (Gallbladder Inflammation)

Cholecystitis is the permanent blockage of your bile duct that can lead to a build-up of a ball inside the gallbladder. This may eventually cause infection and inflammation of the gallbladder. Symptoms of gallbladder inflammation include pain in your upper abdomen that travels towards your shoulder blade. 

Infection of the Bile Duct

Another complication is blockage of the common bile tubes through which bile flows from your gallbladder or liver to your small intestine. It is also known as acute cholangitis. Symptoms of this condition include pain in your upper abdomen that travels towards your shoulder blade, a high temperature, and jaundice

Pancreatitis (Inflammation of the Pancreas)

Pancreatitis occurs when a gallstone moves out of your gallbladder and blocks the opening of your pancreas, causing it to become inflamed. The most common symptom of pancreatitis is a sudden severe dull pain in the center of your upper abdomen, which worsens over time until it becomes a constant ache.

Other symptoms include high temperature and ache traveling from your belly and along your back, which may worsen after you eat. 

Gallbladder Cancer

While this isn’t common, it is still one serious complication of gallstones. Having a history of gallstones increases your risk of developing gallbladder cancer. Although, most people who have gallstones don’t develop gallbladder cancer.

The symptoms of gallbladder cancer are similar to signs of other gallstone complications, such as pain, jaundice, and high temperature. 

How Are Gallstones Diagnosed?

Some procedures and tests commonly used to diagnose gallstones or complications of gallstones include:

  • Physical examination
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • Blood tests may also reveal infection, jaundice, or any other complication of gallstones.

Imaging tests such as hepatobiliary iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) scans can also diagnose gallstones. The scan is an imaging procedure used to diagnose liver, gallbladder, and bile duct problems, although it’s most often used to evaluate your gallbladder.

what's the function of the gallbladder

This gallbladder scan helps to assess the bile-excreting function of your liver and track how bile flows from your liver into your small intestine. The scan helps to identify if there’s any problem with your gallbladder. 

How to Prevent Gallstones

Some helpful ways to reduce your risk of gallstones include:

  • Avoid Skipping Meals. Ensure you stick to your usual meal times daily because skipping meals increases your risk of gallstones.
  • Maintain Normal Body Weight. If you have to lose weight, ensure you do it slowly, as rapid weight loss increases your risk of gallstones. Target losing 1 to 2 pounds every week or 5-10% of your starting weight over six months.
  • Eat more high-fiber foods. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are fiber-rich foods to add to your diet.
  • Avoid eating foods high in saturated fat, such as butter, cheese, and fatty meats.
  • Avoid alcohol as much as you can.

How Do You Treat Gallstones?

Several people who have gallstones don’t even have the symptoms, i.e., they are asymptomatic. If you fall under that category, you don’t need any treatment. However, if you exhibit any of the symptoms of gallstones or gallstones complications, treatment options that may be recommended include the following: 

Cholecystectomy

Cholecystectomy is a surgery to remove your gallbladder. Your doctor may recommend this if the gallstones frequently occur. You can do without a gallbladder, and removing it doesn’t affect your ability to digest food. However, removing your gallbladder can cause frequent diarrhea, but it’s often temporary. Besides, that’s better than having severe complications of gallstones. 

Use of Medications

An alternative treatment option is medications to help dissolve gallstones. However, this treatment takes years to work, and the dissolved gallstones may likely form again when you stop using these medications. Also, your doctor would usually only recommend the medications if you can’t undergo surgery since they aren’t so effective. 

Keeping Your Gallbladder Healthy With Craft Body Scan

In this post, we answered the question, “what’s the function of the gallbladder.” We also discussed the risk factors of gallstones, the diagnosis of gallstones, including gallbladder scans, and the treatment of gallstones.

While Craft Body Scan does not diagnose gallstones nor conduct gallbladder scans, we run full-body scans. This scan can help detect any abnormality in your body, including your gallbladder, which would help you act quickly enough. Even if you don’t have the symptoms, remember that prevention is always better than cure.

Are you interested in a full-body scan? Would you like to discuss your conditions with a professional? Click the button below to book a consultation.

 

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