Like its cousin, the appendix, the necessity of the gallbladder is often debated. However, despite popular belief, the gallbladder provides a necessary function of a body. The gallbladder is a small pouch that is found below the liver. Within this pouch, bile is stored. Bile is a fluid that the liver produces in aiding the breakdown of fats and digestion. The liver is a factory. But the gallbladder is the storage warehouse. They work together but can be independent.
When the gallbladder is experiencing problems, the rest of the body usually reacts rather quickly. Depending on the severity of discomfort, gallbladder pain can be symptomatic of a few conditions:
Gallstones are the most common cause of gallbladder pain. Gallstones occur when bits of cholesterol and others materials in bile combine together and form solid masses. These masses are typically no larger than a pencil eraser but that does not mean they are any less painful. Pregnant women and those who are overweight and losing weight rapidly are more prone to gallstones. For some, the pain comes and goes. But for others, it needs immediate treatment.
Another cause of gallbladder pain could be a condition related to gallstones called biliary colic. This occurs when bile leaves the gallbladder through the cystic duct and into the small intestine where it begins to break down the food we eat. However, if there is a gallstone blocking that duct, the body can have a serious reaction. Fever, sweats, constipation and severe abdominal pain are the typical symptoms of this condition. Luckily these episodes usually only last an hour or two.
More severe problems associated with gallstones include cholecystitis or inflamed gallbladder. When there are too many gallstones, a life of excessive drinking, or some infections, the gallbladder can become swollen and irritated. If the condition persists without treatment, bacteria from the intestines can make their way into the gallbladder and lead to infection. If symptoms persist, the gallbladder can eventually rupture and need immediate surgical removal.
Frequent gallstones can lead to chronic gallstone disease. Symptoms can include frequent indigestion, gas, and diarrhea due to the hampered digestive tract.
The pain from these conditions can range from the abdominal area and radiate upwards into the back and shoulder areas. Other noticeable symptoms can be painful cramping, unusual swelling of the stomach as well as vomiting and fever.
Gallbladder pain is located in the mid- or upper-right section of the abdomen. The pain often comes and goes. Intensity can range from mild to severe. Gallbladder pain often causes pain in the chest and back.
If you have noticed any of these symptoms, medical attention is the best way to discern what kind of treatment you may need. Seek medical attention right away if you experience:
- upper-right quadrant pain that does not resolve within five hours
- fever, nausea, or vomiting
- changes in bowel movements and urination
For any gallbladder problem, doctors will commonly start with an ultrasound exam. Ultrasounds are best for determining the presence of gallstones. Because of the solid nature of stones, they are easily detectable, especially in digital ultrasounds.
Ultrasounds are non-invasive and they can allow doctors to see the problem in real-time making them the fastest choice for doctors and the easiest on patients. If doctors want to see more detailed images, they may ask the patient to undergo an MRI with contrast material. The contrast material in an MRI is not harmful unless the patient has kidney dysfunction. But the contrast allows doctors to track the trajectory of the dye through the body, highlighting diseased tissue and blockages.
If you have concerns about gallstones or need to schedule your medical imaging, call Doctors Imaging at 504-883-8111. You can also complete our online appointment request form.
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