A pear-shaped organ located under the liver, the gallbladder serves an important function: to collect and store bile. This digestive fluid is made by the liver. It breaks down the fats in the foods that we consume. We likely do not think about our gallbladder until something goes awry, when this organ becomes inflamed or swollen due to conditions such as gallstones or when the gallbladder is not functioning properly.
When clumps of matter (or “gallstones”) form in the gallbladder, they can give rise to cholecystitis. The gallstone may block the opening of the cystic duct or tube that transports bile from the gallbladder to the main bile duct. The trapped bile irritates the gallbladder, causing it to become swollen.
Acute cholecystitis (attacks of cholecystitis) is generally accompanied by:
- Persistent pain
- Pain that lingers in the upper right abdomen for 6-plus hours
- Discomfort that worsens upon touch or when taking deep breaths
- Radiating pain (up to the right shoulder and back)
- Stomach upset
- Lack of appetite
Attacks vary; they may last from 30 minutes to two or three days (or longer). Repeated attacks are characterized as “chronic cholecystitis.” This form of inflammation may present as less severe pain and shorter attacks.
Diagnosing and managing attacks
A detailed history and clinical examination along with routine blood tests and ultrasound of the gallbladder will lead to the diagnosis. Occasionally, the diagnosis may not be straightforward. Remember 20% of the population have gallstones, but we only remove gallbladders when they become symptomatic. Most of the time, your GP will diagnose the problem and refer you to see Dr Ganesh, Dr Ganesh will reconfirm the diagnosis and will offer surgery to remove the gallbladder. Unlike Kidney stones, gallstones can not be removed without taking out the gallbladder. One can lead a normal life without the gallbladder. However, there may be a period of adjustment for the body soon after surgery.
Cholecystectomy refers to the surgical removal of the gallbladder. Eventually, many patients with cholecystitis may need to have their gallbladders removed. No worries – bile will flow from the liver to the small intestine. Also, modern laparoscopic techniques are largely less invasive than conventional “open” surgery. Minimally-invasive methods support the safest treatment, minimal risks of complications, and a fast and uneventful recovery.