What is Gallbladder Disease?
Gallbladder disease includes a number of conditions of the gallbladder. The primary job of the gallbladder is to store a substance called bile that is produced by the body. As a storage organ, the gallbladder is at risk for forming gallstones, which are very common and often do not cause any problems. Gallstones and bile sludge can be seen in 10-20% of healthy people without gallbladder issues. However, if the stones move into and obstruct the larger bile ducts, severe pain, inflammation and infection can result.
The most common symptoms of gallbladder disease are:
- Abdominal pain in the mid or right upper abdomen which may radiate to the back or right shoulder
- Nausea and vomiting
Symptoms typically occur after eating a meal.
Tests & Diagnosis
Diagnosis of gallbladder disease starts with evaluation by a gastroenterologist and often involves lab work, radiology imaging and other procedures.
Clinical history – Discussion of your symptoms with a gastroenterologist is one of the most important steps in diagnosis. This discussion can uncover details which will point to gallbladder disease, narrow down its cause and rule out other causes of your symptoms.
Labs – Complete blood count, liver tests and pancreatic enzymes can be helpful in evaluating gallbladder disease and its severity.
Imaging – Ultrasound and endoscopic ultrasound are the most common tests used in evaluating the gallbladder. MRI and HIDA scan may also be of use.
Other tests – Additional labs, imaging or procedures may also be appropriate to rule out other conditions depending on your symptoms.
Treatment of gallbladder disease generally involves surgery to remove the gallbladder and sometimes also involves endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). ERCP can remove stones that have migrated into the main bile duct.
The best prevention for gallstones and thus gallbladder disease is to maintain a healthy weight. Rapid weight loss can lead to the development of gallstones and should be avoided or discussed with your gastroenterologist. Regular exercise is associated with lower risk of gallstones.