Gallbladder disease is a common term for many of several conditions that can affect your gallbladder. These conditions often, although not always, cause pain in your gallbladder. The two major causes for gallbladder disease include:
- Intermittent or complete blockage of the bile ducts due to gallstones (Cholelithiasis)
- Inflammation of the gallbladder lining causing irritation or infection of the surrounding tissues (Cholecystitis).
Types of Gallbladder Disease
Occurring when the gallbladder fails to empty fully or often enough, the substances making up the bile within the gallbladder harden and form stones called gallstones. These stones then block the surrounding ducts.
This is most common form of gallbladder disease and results in the inflammation of the gallbladder wall. It can occur in a short amount of time (acute) or develop over a long period of time (chronic).
Although relatively rare, gallbladder cancer is a serious condition that is often discovered in the late stages or is misdiagnosed as gallstones. They are often in the form of polyps, or abnormal growths, which should be tested and labeled as benign or malignant.
When a gallstone blocks the duct leading to the pancreas, gallstone pancreatitis results. The inflammation a gallstone can cause is a serious condition that must be treated immediately.
There are other gallbladder diseases that result from either gallstones or inflammation of the gallbladder including biliary enteric fistulas (leaking of bile through a damaged bile duct), sclerosing cholangitis (includes inflammation, scarring, and damage to the bile ducts, especially those connecting to the liver), and acalculous gallbladder disease (may result from the gallbladder muscles or valves not working properly).
Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease
- Severe pain in abdomen, specifically the mid- to upper-right section of the abdomen
- Back pain especially between the shoulder blades
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal bloating
- Intolerance of fatty foods
- Belching, gas, and general indigestion
- Dark colored urine, light colored stools
- Fever and chills
Gallbladder Disease Treatment
There are many options for the treatment of gallbladder disease available depending on the type of gallbladder disease you are diagnosed with.
- Antibiotics – Prevents any infection that is present from spreading when inflammation is present in the gallbladder.
- Extracorporeal Shock-Wave Lithotripsy – Helps to reduce small gallstones that are present by breaking them up using high-energy shockwaves shot through a machine through the abdomen.
- Chemotherapy and Radiation – Treatment for when gallbladder cancer is present or to prevent gallbladder cancer from returning.
- Gallbladder Surgery (Cholecystectomy) – Removal of the diseased gallbladder through various surgical means depending on your condition.
- Ursodeoxycholic Acid – An option for those unable to have gallbladder surgery. This oral medication helps dissolve gallstones present in the gallbladder.
- Contact Solvent Dissolution – A rarely used treatment option where a needle is injected directly into the gallbladder releasing a solvent to help dissolve present gallstones.
Types of Gallbladder Problems
Some of the most common types of gallbladder problems include:
These are growths that are benign and non-cancerous. They may not even need to be removed if they are small. However, larger polyps should be removed through surgery before they turn cancerous or cause obstructions to correct gallbladder functioning.
Gallbladder Disease Without Stones
Gallstones are not the only cause of gallbladder problems. Gallbladder disease without stones can also occur. This typically means you may experience the symptoms of gallstones without having any stones in your gallbladder.
Abscess of the Gallbladder
Some patients with gallstones may end up developing pus in their gallbladder. The pus is usually a combination of dead tissue, bacteria and some white blood cells. This condition leads to severe abdominal pain. If it isn’t treated, it can become dangerous as the infection can spread to other sensitive areas in the body.
A gallstone may move into an intestine and block it. Even though this rarely occurs, it can be fatal. It is most common among adults 60 years and older.
How Is Gallbladder Disease Diagnosed?
If we suspect that you may have gallbladder disease, we’ll give you a physical exam which may include the following.
- Blood Tests: These detect any signs of infection or obstructions in the gallbladder and are used to rule out any other condition.
- Ultrasound: This is a quick procedure done in the doctor’s office to make images of the inside of your body.
- CT Scan: This is a specialized X-ray scan that allows us to view the inside of your body, specifically the gallbladder.
- Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography: This is a test which uses pulse radio waves and magnetic fields to take images of the inside of your body, including the pancreas, liver and gallbladder.
- Cholescintigraphy: This test checks whether the gallbladder moves correctly. We will inject a harmless radioactive material into the gallbladder and observe its movement to see whether it is working as it should.
- Endoscopic Ultrasound: This is a test which combines both ultrasound and endoscopy to check whether there are gallstones in the gallbladder.
- Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography: In this test, we will insert an endoscope through your mouth all the way to the small intestine and then inject a dye to allow us to see the bile ducts. We will then remove any gallstones that might be in the gallbladder.
Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease
With gallbladder disease, you may experience some or all of the following:
- Pain that tends to get worse after eating a meal, especially fatty foods
- Pain that gets severe when you breathe deeply or when you cough
- Chest pain (angina)
- Heartburn and excessive gas
- A feeling of fullness, especially in the abdomen
- Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
- Tenderness and pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
Choosing Your Physician
With over 20 years of highly-specialized experience and training, Dr. Mark Fraiman is recognized as an expert in the treatment of gallbladder disease in Baltimore.
Using multidisciplinary methods, as well as a patient-centered approach to care, Dr. Fraiman will develop an individualized and comprehensive plan for each of his gallbladder patients depending on their specific needs. He will accurately diagnose your individual problems and discuss the various treatments for gallbladder disease that are available based on what is best for you.
Contact Our Gallbladder Specialists Today
For more information about gallbladder disease or a consultation with the best east coast gallbladder surgeon, Dr. Fraiman, please feel free to get in touch by completing our contact form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.