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Gall Bladder and Bile Duct Health

  • What do my Gall Bladder and Bile Duct do?

    What do my gall bladder and bile duct do?

    The liver produces bile, which is used in breaking down the fats in our intestines. This bile is transported from the liver to the gall bladder, where it is stored and concentrated, before being released to the small intestine through the bile duct. During meals, the gall bladder will contract and release concentrated bile through the bile duct into the head of the small intestine, where it can break down the fats in the semi-digested food, and remove bilirubin, a waste product of blood cells breaking down.

    What are gallstones?

    Due to chemical imbalance or infrequent emptying of the bile in the gall bladder, gallstones may develop in the gall bladder. Usually caused by over-concentration of cholesterol or other minerals in the body, gallstones are usually solid masses that are commonly passed out of the body with the stool. However, in some cases, the gallstones may be too big to be passed out of the gallbladder, or they may get lodged in the bile duct, causing a block in the bile duct. When there is a build-up of gallstones in the gallbladder or a block in the bile duct, the gallstones may cause swelling in the respective organs. Factors that cause gallstones to form include:

    • Hereditary causes
    • Obesity
    • Rapid weight loss
    • Pregnancy
    • Cholesterol-lowering medications

    What are the symptoms of gallstones?

    Gallstones usually do not cause any symptoms until there is blockage of the bile movement, either through an excessive build-up of gallstones in the gall bladder, or a block of the bile duct. When this occurs, symptoms include:

    • Steady, severe pain in the upper right abdomen which can extend to the back and between the shoulder blades
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Bloating
    • Jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes)

    Gallstones can lead to:

    • Gallbladder swelling (cholecystitis)
    • Bile duct swelling (cholangitis)
    • Pancreas swelling (pancreatitis)

    How gallstones treated?

    Gallstones can be removed laparoscopically (minimally invasive surgery technique), where a special tool is inserted into the gall bladder through a small incision on the stomach. The stones are then removed using these special tools.

    The more common approach is to remove the gall bladder entirely laparoscopically to prevent a repeated development of gallstones. It is possible for someone to live without their gall bladder. Gall bladder removal is also the common treatment for gall bladder swelling caused by gallstones. When the swelling of the gall bladder is left untreated, it is possible for the gallbladder to develop gangrene and rupture. While rare, ruptured gall bladders due to gall bladder inflammation and gallstones have a 30% chance of causing death.

  • Gall Bladder and Bile Duct Cancer

    What is gall bladder cancer?

    Gall bladder cancer is the malignant growth of cancer cells in the gall bladder. Similarly, bile duct cancer is the development of cancer in the bile duct.

    What causes gall bladder and bile duct cancer?

    People with the following risk factors are more likely to develop gall bladder cancer:

    • Elderly people
    • Females, as gall bladder cancer develops in females more often than men
    • Obesity
    • People who have a history of gallstones
    • Family history of gall bladder cancer

    People with chronic swelling of the bile duct due to infection or blockage are more likely to develop bile duct cancer.

    What are the symptoms of gall bladder and bile duct cancer?

    A common theme of cancer in the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gall bladder and bile duct) is that early stage cancer in these organs tends to have little to no symptoms. The below symptoms tend to develop when the cancer has developed:

    • Steady, severe pain in the upper right abdomen which can extend to the back and between the shoulder blades
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Bloating
    • Lumps in the abdomen
    • Jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes)

    How is gall bladder and bile duct cancer treated?

    Gall bladder and bile duct cancer can be treated if they are diagnosed early and before they spread extensively to other parts of the body. This is done by removing the cancerous gall bladder, bile duct, or part of the liver. However, cancer in the gall bladder and bile duct is often diagnosed very late due to a lack of regular complete health screenings. In these cases, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are used to control the spread of the cancer and extend the patient’s lifespan. 

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