Remember the biology lessons about the digestive system? Try recalling the gallbladder, the innocuous little organ nestled just under the liver to the right side of the abdomen.Look at the image below if you are still scratching your head and trying to place it in your mental picture of the digestive system.
Most of us were mystified as to how the tiny pear-shaped organ helps the body if it, in fact, did any help. As a matter of fact, the gallbladder works as a storage and conveyor system. It stores and releases bile (a fluid produced by the liver) from time to time to help digest fats in the small intestine. But another fact is that most animal species don’t have a gallbladder, so can you live without a gallbladder? Read on to find out.
Gallstones and its implications
Gallstones are hard deposits of bile that are formed in the gallbladder. They can be as tiny as a grain of rice and sometimes as big as a ping-pong ball. It is said that obese people and people who lose a lot of weight in a short period of time are more susceptible to having gallstones than the others. Women are also more vulnerable to having gallstones than men. Diabetes and other genetic reasons have also been cited for the production of gallstones.
The appearance of gallstones can majorly hamper the regular functioning of the gallbladder, and if not immediately taken care of, can severely hamper the functioning of the whole body. Some gallstones surface and disappear without any symptoms (the really tiny ones). But in many other cases, the person requires medication or even surgical removal of the stones or the gallbladder itself.
Most often the removal of gallbladder doesn’t bring a major change in the body since the body still creates the same amount of bile as before. When we eat, it dispenses bile through the common bile duct into the intestine which helps in digestion of food, especially the fatty substances. But with the removal of the gallbladder, there is no storage of the bile and it continuously keeps flowing into the intestine. A small change in diet is essential after gallbladder removal surgery to get the person attuned to the new digestive cycle. Doctors advise the patient after a gallbladder removal surgery to lay off from food high in fatty substances to help the intestine with digestion.
Treatment and prevention
Gallstones can only prove to be fatal if not treated properly. The main symptom of gallstones is abdominal pain. Other common symptoms include a yellow tint to the skin, fever or vomiting. In case the severity of the symptoms is acute, medication is started immediately or even surgical removal may be necessary. In cases of non-surgical intervention, medication is prescribed that may need to be taken for months or even years. The drugs are made from bile acid and are used to treat cholesterol stones only.
However, most cases require surgical treatment. Through an ultrasound or CAT scan, the gallstones are diagnosed, and from there the course of treatment is decided. Surgery in most cases is performed laparoscopically which is the minimally invasive procedure. Medication and surgery are the traditional ways of treating gallstones once the symptoms start surfacing. But if gallstones are found in the bile duct, they need to be removed surgically, symptoms or no symptoms!
It’s safe to say that prevention is always better than cure. Don’t leave it all to fate and start taking care of your body now. There are pigment gallstones that form in case of health disorders like liver cirrhosis. Most people develop cholesterol gallstones when there is too much cholesterol in the bile. So, avoid too much fatty food and cholesterol-rich treats, and more so if you have a family history of gallstones.