What do you know about your gallbladder?
It’s one of those body parts you don’t even know is there until something goes wrong with it. The gallbladder is about the size and shape of a small pear and sits under your liver on the right side of your upper abdomen.
Because of various problems with the gallbladder, many people live without one and are doing just fine.
If you’ve ever wondered what the purpose of the gallbladder is, what happens when it’s no longer able to do its job, and how a problem gallbladder is treated, keep reading.
Bile, Bile, Bile
The gallbladder has one job: dealing with bile. A yellow-brown liquid made of fat, cholesterol, and fluids, bile is made by the liver and stored by the gallbladder. When you eat, the gallbladder releases the bile into the common bile duct. From here it’s sent to the small intestine, where it helps dissolve and digest fats in the foods you eat so they can be absorbed into your bloodstream.
When Trouble Comes
Things are usually fine with the gallbladder until something blocks the bile ducts. Most gallbladder problems have to do with gallstones, but other problems may include gallbladder disease, gallbladder attack, or rarely, cancer.
Gallstones are formed when something in the bile crystallizes and forms small, hard stones made of cholesterol, bile salts, and bilirubin. These stones can be as tiny as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. While a seemingly small problem, it can have substantial effects on your health.
What You’ll Experience
Gallstones are common and may go unnoticed if small enough to pass on their own, but as they grow and block ducts, you’ll feel it. The most common symptom of a gallbladder problem is pain felt on the upper right side of your abdomen. The pain may be mild and occur every once in a while, or it may be severe and felt frequently. Pain may extend to your back or chest.
A second common symptom is nausea and vomiting. Gallbladder disease may also lead to gas, acid reflux, nausea, vomiting, and frequent diarrhea.
Inflammation in the gallbladder frequently causes fever and chills that signify an infection. Prompt treatment is necessary to prevent the infection from spreading.
Gallstones or blocked bile ducts can also lighten the color of your stool, darken the color of your urine, or give you jaundice, a condition that makes your skin turn yellow.
Any time you experience unexplained pain, nausea, or fever, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. Through lab tests and MRI or other scans, gallbladder issues can be readily diagnosed. In most cases gallstones resolve on their own, but other times medications, minor procedures, or surgical removal may be necessary. Thankfully, the gallbladder isn’t an essential organ. You can live without one just fine since there are other ways bile can reach your small intestine.
Keep Your Gallbladder Healthy
Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are the best ways to ensure your gallbladder lasts a lifetime. Your everyday diet should include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, low-fat dairy, lean meats, poultry, and fish, and plenty of water. Caffeinated coffee and a moderate amount of alcohol are also helpful at preventing gallstones.
For a healthy gallbladder, avoid sugar, refined carbohydrates, sweeteners, processed foods, and foods high in fat.