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, all 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 an obstruction in the bile duct. When there is an accumulation of gallstones in the gallbladder or an obstruction in the bile duct, the gallstones may cause inflammation of the respective organs. Factors that cause gallstones to form include:
- Hereditary causes
- Rapid weight loss
- 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 over-accumulation of gallstones in the gall bladder, or an obstruction 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
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
Gallstones can lead to:
- Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis)
- Bile duct inflammation (cholangitis)
- Pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis)
How gallstones treated?
Gallstones can be removed laparoscopically (minimally invasive surgery), where a special tool is inserted into the gall bladder through a small incision on the abdomen. The stones are then removed using the special tools. The more common approach is to remove the gall bladder entirely through a laparoscopic procedure, in order to prevent a reoccurrence of gallstones. It is possible for someone to live without their gall bladder. Gallbladder removal is also the common treatment for gallbladder inflammation caused by gallstones. When gallbladder inflammation 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 to causing death.