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Know the Signs of Gallbladder Disease

Your age, gender and diet can put you at risk

Have you ever felt sharp pain in your right side? It could be a sign of gallbladder disease. Learn the signs, symptoms and treatments from surgeon Michael Mahoney, DO, with LVPG Surgery and family medicine nurse practitioner Jennifer Yourey, CRNP, with LVPG Family Medicine.

What is the gallbladder?

This 4-inch pear-shaped organ lies just beneath your liver on the right side of your abdomen. It stores bile made in your liver – a mixture of water, cholesterol, bile salts and other substances that help digest fats in food. The gallbladder squeezes bile into your small intestine, where food has traveled from your stomach.

What can go wrong?

  • Gallstones: These small, rock-like deposits form when bile contains too much cholesterol or other substances. “You may not know you have gallstones if they’re small and don’t cause symptoms,” Mahoney says. However, they often grow and clog the bile duct opening.
  • Choledocholithiasis: This dangerous condition occurs when gallstones completely block the bile duct opening.
  • Cholecystitis: This painful inflammation is caused by gallstones, infection or injury. It may start off acute (sudden and severe) and become chronic if left untreated.
  • Biliary dyskinesia: This chronic disease occurs when your gallbladder muscles stop working properly for unknown reasons.

Who’s at risk?

  • Women (especially during pregnancy)
  • People over 40
  • Obese individuals
  • Those with high-fat, highcholesterol diets
  • People who lose weight rapidly (including from bariatric surgery)

What are the symptoms?

  • Classic symptom: Sharp pain in the upper right abdomen that radiates to the back and right shoulder
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Clay-colored stools

How do you treat gallbladder problems?

If you have gallbladder problems but mild or no symptoms, treatment is usually not necessary. “For mild symptoms, you may try living with them or switching to a low-fat diet,” Yourey says.

If symptoms get progressively worse, surgery is needed. “In those cases, the most effective treatment usually is surgery to remove the gallbladder,” Mahoney says.

  • Surgery is typically done laparoscopically.
  • Pain is minimal.
  • Patients usually go home the same day.
  • Back to work within a week or two.

Learn more about gallstone symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Visit LVHN.org/gallstones or call 570-501-4LVH to make an appointment.