The gallbladder is probably an organ you have heard of before. You may even know someone that has had gallbladder trouble, or they may have even had their gallbladder removed.
But do you know where your gallbladder is or what exactly it does?
Where is Your Gallbladder?
Your gallbladder is a small sac-like organ located on the right side of your abdomen, hidden underneath your liver. It is an essential component to the process of digestion despite its small size.
Shaped like a pear and approximately 7-10 centimeters in length, this hollow organ has three distinct sections: the fundus, the body, and the neck.
The fundus is the round part of the gallbladder that peaks out under the liver and faces towards the front of your body.
The body of the gallbladder nestles at the bottom of the liver and makes up the main portion of the gallbladder. It can stretch to hold bile and other fluids as it is a muscular sac.
Lastly, the neck tapers down connecting with what is called the cystic duct.
Bile Duct Anatomy
In order to fully understand how the gallbladder functions in the body, you should have an idea of the surrounding anatomy as well. The cystic duct, mentioned above, starts a system known as the biliary tree which is made up of bile ducts.
The bile ducts work as the passageways for bile. The liver drains bile via its hepatic ducts to either the gallbladder (through the cystic duct) where the bile it is temporarily stored, or through the common bile duct which connects to the duodenum where it aids in the excretion of waste.
What is Bile?
Now you are probably asking yourself “what exactly is all this bile talk?”
Bile is a yellowish-green fluid that is continuously produced and released from your liver into the gallbladder for later use or directly into the duodenum for digestive purposes.
Bile aids in fat digestion and assists with the excretion of several types of waste from the body. It is made up of mostly cholesterol, salt, and bilirubin.
Bile breaks down the fat we absorb through the foods we consume into smaller pieces as part of the digestive process. These tiny particles are then absorbed into the intestines and follow the route to excretion as waste products.
Bile also contains bilirubin, a byproduct of hemoglobin breakdown. When our body rids itself of old red blood cells, there is often excess hemoglobin inside of them. The liver breaks down these old red blood cells and the resulting waste within the hemoglobin must be passed from our bodies. This yellow product travels via blood and bile and is excreted either as urine or stool.
Another thing bile helps release from our bodies is cholesterol. By taking the cholesterol and transporting it directly into the intestinal tract, the cholesterol joins the digestive process and is excreted as waste.
So What About the Gallbladder?
The gallbladder simply acts as a reservoir for the bile that the liver is constantly producing and secreting.
When bile is not needed by the body for the digestion of fats, the gallbladder holds onto it and only secretes it when stimulated to do so by a peptide hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK).
The incredible thing is that the liver really does constantly produce bile.
In fact, it can produce up to 1 liter of bile per 24 hour period! Most of this is stored in the gallbladder though, as our bodies do not always need such a large quantity of bile at once.
Yet, the gallbladder is so tiny, how can it hold this amount of fluid at one time?
The gallbladder can concentrate the amount of bile the liver produces by reabsorbing water, sodium, chloride and other electrolytes through its lining.
The gallbladder then maintains the bile salts in order to become super concentrated. In fact, bile becomes 5 to 20 times more concentrated than the bile originally produced by the liver.
This concentrated bile is squeezed out of the gallbladder through contractions when food is detected in both the stomach and the duodenum. Drop by drop the bile is released to help breakdown the large fat particles into smaller easier to digest amounts.
A Common Problem in the Gallbladder
As the gallbladder stores and releases bile based on your body’s needs, sometimes hard crystal-like substances can form called a gallstones. These small pieces of material can cause severe pain and even block the bile duct.
Gallstones are thought to form for a number of reasons.
There may be an imbalance of cholesterol or other pigments making up your bile that crystallize and form these hard substances. An excessive amount of bilirubin may also play a role in forming gallstones. Lastly, if your gallbladder is not emptying correctly, the bile may become too concentrated and gallstones could potentially form.
Should you be diagnosed as having gallstones there are many different treatment options that can remedy the pain and the actual stones themselves.
Small Yet Effective
Your gallbladder is a tiny fighter. It helps with one of the most crucial steps of digestion and aids in the excretion of products our bodies just cannot use.
Knowing the anatomy and function of your gallbladder will allow you to better understand that your internal organs are complex, efficient, and are of great importance to you.