The combination of a “civilized” diet, of saturated fats, fried foods, hydrogenated (or fake) fats and white sugar, white flour, highly-processed, nutrient-stripped food, along with a sedentary lifestyle tends to create an environment ripe for the formation of gallstones or other gallbladder problems.
Eating too many of the wrong fats puts you at risk, but people who eat no fat at all are also at risk. No fat in the diet means that the gallbladder works less frequently, which could cause stasis and bile thickening. Moderate amounts of the right fats, such as olive oil, are much better.
Although being female is an increased risk for gallbladder disease, according to a study published in BMC Gastroenterology 2002,(1)gallstones in children is on the rise. And men are not excepted either, although the ratio still tends to be 80% women to 20% men.
What are Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease
Regardless of the diagnosis of your gallbladder disease, most of the symptoms will be similar. This is one of the reasons it is hard to know exactly what is going on without several tests. The most common symptoms are indigestion, gas, bloating, burping, and belching especially (but not necessarily) following a meal. It usually is a meal containing fat but after some time it seems to be unrelated not only to fat intake but even food intake. It may progress to constant tenderness or discomfort (unrelated to food intake) under the rib cage on the right side. The symptoms are similar to those of a gallbladder attack but with less severity. For a complete list of symptoms relating to gallbladder problems go to general gallbladder symptoms.
Even if it does not seem to be connected to food now, if you can remember back, some symptoms of indigestion usually followed a meal. What caused or is causing the lack of fat digestion could be of various origin. A stone could be blocking the bile flow. The gallbladder could be distended due to stones or inflammation. There could be infection in the gallbladder causing tenderness or the tenderness could simply be due to stasis of bile causing distention. The gallbladder could be not emptying fully (biliary dyskinesia) and lack of bile causes improper fat digestion. Or the problem could start in the liver with stasis of bile there and the formation of sludge or tiny calculi slowing bile flow and causing it to thicken. Constipation and weight gain can also be symptoms of gallbladder problems.
Specific Gallbladder Diseases
Cholelithiasis – Gallstones
Solid crystalline precipitates in the BILIARY TRACT, usually formed in the GALLBLADDER. Gallstones, derived from the BILE, consist mainly of calcium, cholesterol, or bilirubin.
Since the majority of symptoms relating to the gallbladder are caused by gallstones, there is a page dedicated that alone. If cholelithiasis or gallstones is your diagnosis, follow the thread from here to Gallstones. Otherwise, read on.
Cholelithiasis and Choledocholithias
Gallstones and Stones in the Bile Ducts
Choledocholithias – Gallstones in the Bile Ducts
This can be very painful and symptoms may differ depending upon where the stone is and if it is blocking bile flow. It can block the neck of the gallbladder causing distention and inflammation (cholecystitis). In the common bile duct it can cause a backing up of bile into the liver resulting in obstructive jaundice or into the pancreas causing acute pancreatitis.
Acalculous cholecystopathy which means disease or condition of the gallbladder without the presence of gallstones. You might also call it functional gallbladder disorder or impaired gallbladder emptying. Some causes may be chronic inflammation, stress, a problem with the smooth muscles of the gallbladder or the muscle of the Sphincter of Oddi being too tight. Also, research shows that hypothyroidism contributes to biliary dyskinesia.
Symptoms – right upper quadrant pain in the absence of gallstones. Any gallbladder symptoms may accompany this problem as it results in lack of concentrated bile from the gallbladder to digest fats.
If this is your diagnosis follow the thread to read about the connection between hypothyroid and gallbladder disease.
Inflammation of the gallbladder. Acute cholecystitis is nearly always due to gallstones but may be due to infection (bacterial). It can also be due to chemical irritation. Chronic cholecystitis occurs with or without stones (acalculous cholecystitis is without). If there are no stones present the medical treatment used is often antispasmodics and/or laxatives. I use the products in the gallbladder attack kit for the pain in this case.
Inflammation of the Gallbladder
Inflammation of the bile duct itself. Chole = bile and angi = duct. Acute cholangitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection resulting from stagnation of the bile in the duct. Choledocholithiasis, a gallstone that gets stuck or lodged in the bile duct can create an obstruction that results in an infection. Less frequently, infections can evolve due to a stricture or narrowing of the duct itself such as in Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (see below) or may accompany a cancer. Something blocks the free flow of the bile causing a stagnant condition which allows the bacteria to take hold.
Symptoms associated with cholangitis are pain, fever, chills, jaundice, or yellowing, abdominal pain
Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
PSC is a disease where the bile ducts of the liver harden, obstructing the flow of bile. It is characterized by inflammation, breaking down of and eventual hardening or fibrosis of the bile ducts within the liver and outside the liver both (intrahepatic and extrahepatic bile ducts.) It is most likely an autoimmune liver disease. Symptoms include itching (caused by bile backing up into the blood stream), jaundice (yellowing also caused by back of bile into bloodstream), tenderness in upper abdomen caused by inflammation to the ducts (cholangitis), possible fever and chills. This is a very serious disease.
Impairment of bile flow due to obstruction in small bile ducts (INTRAHEPATIC CHOLESTASIS) or obstruction in large bile ducts (EXTRAHEPATIC CHOLESTASIS)
Symptoms – blocking of the secretion of bile results in the bile backing up into the circulation. This may result in jaundice and excess bilirubin in the blood which would make the urine dark and the stools pale or chalk colored. The excess of bile salts in the systemic circulation may cause intense itching and skin irritation. There may be fat in the stools and clotting time of blood may be impaired due to malabsorption of fats and Vitamin K which is a fat soluble vitamin that various clotting factors are dependent upon.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 8,750 people will be diagnosed with gallbladder cancer in 2006. Statistics show that it occurs 5x as often in Native American people in New Mexico than in whites. Women are more suseptible than men.
There are rarely any symptoms with gallbladder cancer early on. In fact, it is often only discovered when the gallbladder is removed for other causes such as gallstones. Otherwise, gallbladder cancer is often quite advanced by the time it is diagnosed.
If caught early, removing the gallbladder and affected tissues in bile ducts is the standard treatment.
Gallbladder polyps are growths that protrude from the lining of the gallbladder. They’re usually innocuous and rarely cancerous (malignant). 95% are non-cancerous. 10% are the result of inflammation.2. Most polyps are the result of cholesterol deposits. Gallbladder polyps are usually asymptomatic and need no treatment. They may be found incidentally on an ultrasound of the gallbladder done for some other reason. There is rarely pain involved and any pain that is there is most likely due to something else such as gallstones.2. Occasionally, they may grow large enough to require surgical removal.