Gallbladder disease can have several names, depending on which part of the biliary system is affected. Some of the common variations include:
Cholecystitis — inflammation or infection of the gallbladder, often due to a gallstone obstruction
Cholelithiasis — presence of a stone in the gallbladder, without inflammation or infection
Choledocholithiasis — presence of gallstone in the common bile duct
- Gallstones are commonly found incidentally on abdominal imaging. Only 10-20% of asymptomatic patients go on to develop symptoms within 5-20 years of diagnosis.
- The body can function relatively normally without the gallbladder. Instead of having a gallbladder to store bile, the liver delivers it directly to the small intestine.
What are the causes?
Gallbladder disease is caused by stone formation and blockage of the biliary system, causing pain, infection, and biliary stasis. Risk factors for gallstone formation include obesity, high cholesterol, family history, increasing age, and female sex.
What are the symptoms?
- Jaundice or yellowing of the skin
- Abdominal pain (generally right upper quadrant)
The pain may be intermittent, responding to movement of the gallstone(s).
How is it diagnosed?
Initial diagnosis is performed with an abdominal ultrasound, which can visualize the gallbladder and bile duct to assess for infection/inflammation. The ultrasound can even detect the presence of stones. If the biliary system cannot be properly visualized, further imaging with MRI or CT may be warranted.
How is it treated?
Generally, treatment is surgery to remove the gallbladder, and is curative. The procedure to remove the gallbladder is called a cholecystectomy. If there are stones in the bile duct, additional procedures may be necessary to remove the ductal obstruction.
What is the outlook?
The outlook for people after gallbladder surgery, barring any major complications, is generally excellent. The body can function normally without the gallbladder. Rather than having the gallbladder stores bile, the liver secretes it directly into the small intestines. Having some changes in bowel consistency is normal after surgery. In some cases, a residual gallstone or leak in the biliary system may cause additional symptoms after surgery, which can be corrected.
If you suspect you have an urgent surgical issue, contact your medical provider immediately or go to the closest emergency room.
If you have any questions for our Acute Care team, contact s at (212) 342-1734.