Unless something goes wrong with your gallbladder, you probably don’t give it much thought. That’s good; it means it’s doing its job. But when things go awry with this small organ under your liver, you’re sure to experience a few warning signs.
Here, Dr. Nirav Naik, our board-certified specialist at New Life Medical in Bakersfield, California, explains what your gallbladder does and how to recognize the symptoms of gallbladder disease so you know when to seek help.
How the gallbladder functions
Your gallbladder is small — about 4 inches long — and it’s situated under your liver in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen. This organ’s main job is storing bile, the digestive juices that break down fatty foods in your small intestine. This is important because it enables your body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and other nutrients.
Types of gallbladder disease
Gallbladder disease is any condition that affects the organ. Some of the most common types of gallbladder disease include:
- Cholecystitis: acute or chronic gallbladder inflammation
- Infection of the bile ducts
- Polyps: abnormal tissue growths
- Calcium deposits that stiffen the gallbladder walls, also called porcelain gallbladder
- Gallstones: hardened deposits in the organ that can cause cholecystitis
- Gallbladder cancer
You can also develop an abscess in your gallbladder, a perforated gallbladder, or gallstone ileus, a rare condition in which a gallstone travels to and blocks your intestine.
Signs of gallbladder disease
When your gallbladder is diseased or damaged, you may experience the following symptoms in any combination:
Pain is the most common symptom of gallbladder disease; it may be a sharp or dull ache in your upper right abdominal area. It may also radiate from this location to your ribs, chest, back, neck, and shoulders.
Because your gallbladder stores bile, you may experience digestive problems when it malfunctions. Nausea, with or without vomiting, acid reflux, bloating, and gas are common symptoms.
Without enough bile to break down fats, you may end up with chronic diarrhea — more than four daily bowel movements for three months or more.
Gallbladder disease symptoms typically worsen after eating fatty meals and fried foods. You may also feel full after snacks and small meals that you wouldn’t expect to cause fullness.
Normal stools are brown to dark brown (not black). If you notice lighter stools than usual, it may signify gallbladder disease.
Your urine indicates much about your health. Pale yellow urine is normal; dark urine may indicate a gallbladder problem, such as a blocked bile duct.
Yellow-tinged skin also indicates a gallbladder issue, typically a gallstone or other blockage in the bile duct.
If you have a fever, chills, and sweating along with any of the above symptoms, call us immediately, as these are signs of a severe infection that requires urgent treatment.
Treatment for gallbladder disease
If you have gallbladder disease, your treatment may include lifestyle changes or shock wave therapy to break up gallstones. To prevent serious complications, Dr. Naik performs gallbladder removal surgery using a specialized surgical technique that results in no visible incision on your abdomen.
Have you noticed signs that may point to gallbladder disease? Contact New Life Medical to schedule a comprehensive evaluation with Dr. Naik if you experience any gallbladder symptoms.