What is a gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a hollow and pear-shaped structure situated under the liver and on the right side of the abdomen. Its primary function is to store and concentrate bile, which is a yellow-brown colored digestive enzyme produced by the liver. The gallbladder belongs to the biliary tract.
When bile is not used for digestion, the gallbladder serves as its storage organ. A hormone called cholecystokinin is released when food enters the small intestine. A signal is then sent to the gallbladder to secrete bile, which emulsifies fats. It also eliminates waste products from the body, including bilirubin.
In some cases, the gallbladder is removed, especially when there is gallstone formation. As people age, gallstones may also form. However, not all people are symptomatic. Some of the symptoms of a gallbladder problem may include:
- Pain in the mid-upper portion of the abdomen
- Unexplained fever or chills
- Dark-colored urine
- Light-colored stools
The gallbladder is also an organ that people can live without since its function is to only store bile. Moreover, the gallbladder does not affect any critical organ functioning. When the gallbladder is removed, bile is directly secreted into the small intestine from the liver.
Functions of the Gallbladder
When it comes to digestion, the function of the gallbladder is also important. Most people may feel bloated after consuming a meal rich in oils and fats since they take longer to digest when compared to carbohydrates and proteins.
Fatty substances are broken down into simpler molecules. This process is called emulsification, which is carried out by the bile juice that is secreted by the liver. Below are some of the functions of the gallbladder in the detail:
1. Storehouse of bile
The gallbladder's major function is to store bile, which is produced by the liver. Bile remains in the gallbladder until it is needed for lipid digestion.
2. Neutralization of acids
Since bile is an alkaline substance, it is considered helpful when it comes to neutralizing the hydrochloric acid in the stomach, especially during periods of starvation. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach has a pH level of 2. This strong acidic concentration is helpful in the process of protein digestion.
First, inactive pepsinogen is converted into active pepsin enzymes through this acidic medium. On the other hand, the digestion of fats requires an alkaline medium. For this reason, bile functions by turning the acidic medium into alkaline as food enters the small intestine after partial digestion.
3. Lipid emulsification
Another function of the gallbladder is the emulsification of lipids. Bile juice that comes from the gallbladder has the potential to emulsify lipids or fatty substances present in different types of food. Once this process is done, then it would become easier for the enzymes to carry on with the digestion of emulsified fats.
4. Helps eliminate waste products
The gallbladder also helps eliminate waste products from the body, such as bilirubin. After eating fatty foods, the gallbladder squirts bile into the small intestine to emulsify fats. Some of the bile and the bilirubin it contains continue to go through the small intestine and into the large intestine, and finally excreted in the feces.
5. Facilitates the process of absorption
The absorptive functions of the gallbladder include the absorption of the following:
- Hydrophilic proteins
Conditions That Affect the Gallbladder
The following are some of the diseases that can affect gallbladder functioning:
Cholecystitis is the infection of the gallbladder and is often due to gallstone formation in the gallbladder. This condition results in the buildup of bile causing inflammation, fever, and severe pain. Other causes include tumors, bile duct disorders, and certain illnesses or infections.
If cholecystitis is left untreated, life-threatening complications may occur, such as rupture of the gallbladder. Its treatment usually involves the surgical removal of the gallbladder.
2. Gallbladder Cancer
Although gallstone formation is very common, gallbladder cancer is very rare. When gallbladder cancer is early detected, the prognosis is very good. Unfortunately, most gallbladder cancers are diagnosed at a late stage because of a lack of specific signs and symptoms.
Some of the signs and symptoms of gallbladder cancer are:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal bloating
- Pain in the upper right abdominal region
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and sclera or whites of the eyes)
3. Gallstone Formation or Cholelithiasis
Gallstones are solid deposits of digestive fluid that can form in the gallbladder. Gallstones do not always cause noticeable signs or symptoms unless they lodge in a duct and cause an obstruction. Some of its signs and symptoms are:
- Right shoulder pain
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Acute and rapidly increasing pain in the upper right abdominal region
- Acute and rapidly increasing pain in the central part of the abdomen
4. Gallstone Pancreatitis
Gallstone pancreatitis refers to the inflammation of the pancreas, which results from a pancreatic obstruction due to gallstones. It can be a life-threatening condition, which needs urgent medical evaluation.
The doctor would be the best person to suggest what action should be taken to treat gallbladder conditions. Some of the most common treatment methods for gallbladder diseases are:
The surgical removal of the gallbladder is a common treatment for gallstones and other gallbladder problems. This surgical method is called cholecystectomy, in which the surgeon removes the gallbladder with the help of laparoscopic techniques.
2. Ursodeoxycholic Acid
Ursodeoxycholic acid is an alternative treatment to surgery in certain patients with gallstones. Ursodeoxycholic acid is a bile salt, which can reduce cholesterol secretion into bile. It can also increase the solubility of cholesterol and emptying of the gallbladder. Treatment using bile acids may help prevent gallstone symptoms and its complications.
Patients with cholecystitis are often prescribed antibiotics to help fight the infection. In some cases, patients are required to stay in a hospital to control gallbladder inflammation or infection.
4. Contact solvent dissolution
This treatment is an alternative to the surgical removal of the gallbladder in patients who develop symptoms of gallstone formation.